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Feazell v. Ameren Long Term Disability Plan for Non-union Employees

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 13, 2018

JACOB P. FEAZEL, Plaintiff,
v.
AMEREN LONG TERM DISABILITY PLAN FOR NON-UNION EMPLOYEES, AND AMEREN SERVICES COMPANY AS PLAN ADMINISTRATOR, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HERNDON, District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Before the Court is defendants Ameren Long Term Disability Plan For NonUnion Employees and Ameren Services Company's (“defendants”) motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, to stay, plaintiff Jacob P. Feazel's complaint pending exhaustion of administrative remedies (Doc. 16). For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS the defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

         II. Background

         On April 1, 1983, plaintiff Jacob P. Feazel (“Feazel”) retired from his employment at Union Electric Company, a predecessor of Ameren (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 8, 12-13). Upon retirement, Feazel received a letter informing him that he was entitled to a monthly disability payment under the applicable Union Electric Long Term Disability Plan (Doc. 1, Ex. A). The letter stated that Feazel would receive a monthly benefit of $389.72 for the rest of his life, assuming he remained disabled (Id.). Feazel received this benefit pursuant to the Union Electric Plan, and later the Ameren Long Term Disability Plan for Non-Union Employees (the “Plan”) (Id. at ¶ 17). On August 18, 2017, Feazel received a letter from Ameren stating that an internal audit revealed that Feazel had been improperly receiving benefits for a period beyond the Plan's Maximum Benefit Period (Doc. 1, Ex. B).[1] The letter advised Feazel that the Plan would not seek repayment of the benefits he had improperly received, but that the date of his final payment under the Plan would be September 1, 2017 (Id.). However, on November 1, 2017, Ameren apparently deposited $370.43 into Feazel's bank account (Id. at ¶¶ 25, Ex. E). Consistent with the termination of Feazel's Plan benefits, Ameren recouped the deposit a few hours later, but several hours thereafter, an “unknown entity”[2] reversed the withdrawal and credited Feazel's account with the original deposit amount of $370.43 (Id. at ¶¶ 26-27, Ex. E).

         One week later, on November 7, 2017, Feazel initiated this action by filing a complaint (Doc. 1) alleging that he is entitled to benefits under the Plan and seeking penalties for the defendants' failure to provide requested Plan documents (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 1, 23-28, 35-38). Feazel also alleges that Ameren breached its fiduciary duties in two ways. First, he alleges that Ameren caused him emotional distress by discontinuing his benefits and reversing the November 1, 2017 deposit (Id. at ¶¶ 29-34). Second, he alleges that Ameren failed to provide him with requested Plan documents (Id. at ¶¶ 35-38).

         The defendants argue that Feazel's complaint should either be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or stayed, because Feazel has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) (Doc. 17, pp. 4-6; Doc. 25, pp. 2-3). The defendants also argue that Feazel's complaint should be dismissed because his fiduciary breach claims are duplicative and seek damages that are not available under ERISA (Doc. 17, pp. 6-8; Doc. 25, pp. 3-5).

         III. Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). The Supreme Court explained in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly that Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is warranted if the complaint fails to set forth “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although federal pleading standards were retooled by Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), notice pleading remains all that is required in a complaint. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008) (“A plaintiff still must provide only ‘enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, and, through his allegations, show that it is plausible, rather than merely speculative, that he is entitled to relief.'”). In determining whether the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint are sufficient “to raise a right to relief above a speculative level, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, the Court assumes the truth of all well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Virnich v. Vorwald, 664 F.3d 206, 212 (7th Cir. 2011); Rujawitz v. Martin, 561 F.3d 685, 688 (7th Cir. 2009).

         With these principles in mind, the Court now turns to address the merits of the defendants' motion to dismiss.

         IV. Analysis

         A. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         Feazel concedes that he has neither exhausted nor attempted to exhaust administrative remedies under the Plan, but argues that such failure should be excused, either because exhaustion would be futile, or because he was wrongfully denied meaningful access to administrative procedures (Doc. 22, pp. 6-7). Feazel contends that excusal from the usual exhaustion requirement is warranted in this case because the defendants have failed to demonstrate the existence of adequate administrative remedies, and because the defendants' failure to supply him with certain Plan documents “leaves ample possibility . . . that there is no such appeal procedure” (Id.). The defendants respond that they have demonstrated the existence of available administrative procedures by referring to them in the August 18, 2017 letter (Doc. 1, Ex. B) and subsequent correspondence with Feazel (Doc. 22, Ex. A, p.1), and that Feazel has failed to show that exhaustion would be futile because he has not alleged any facts tending to show that those claims and appeals procedures would not redress his grievances (Doc. 17, p.5).

         ERISA provides that “[a] civil action may be brought . . . by a participant . . . to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B); Edwards v. Briggs & Stratton Ret. Plan, 639 F.3d 355, 360 (7th Cir. 2011). Although ERISA allows an aggrieved plan participant to file a civil action, the statute does not explicitly state “whether exhaustion of administrative remedies is a precondition to filing that action.” Edwards, 639 F.3d at 360. “However, because ERISA directs employee benefit plans to provide adequate written notice of the reasons for denials of claims by plan participants and to create procedures for the review of such denials of claims, ” the Seventh Circuit has “interpreted ...


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