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Stephens v. Time Customer Service, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

August 22, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Defendants Time Customer Service, Inc., Severance Plan and Henry Lescaille's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 8), filed on August 1, 2017. Plaintiff Nina Stephens filed a response on August 14, 2017. (Doc. # 10). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.

         I. Background

         For many years, Stephens worked for Time Customer Service, Inc., which “is an organization that provides fulfillment services in the publishing industry services.” (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 8, 12). On July 23, 2015, Stephens “received a termination letter and severance package, ” with her termination becoming effective on September 11, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 13). Because she was an employee of Time Customer Service, Inc., Stephens alleges she is a participant in the Time Customer Service, Inc., Severance Plan (TCS Plan). (Id. at ¶¶ 9, 11). Yet, “[t]he termination letter stated that Stephens was eligible for certain payments and benefits under the Time Inc. Severance Plan for Regular Employees (Time Inc. Plan)” - a different plan. (Id. at ¶ 14)(emphasis added). Eligibility for benefits was contingent on Stephens signing a release, which she did. (Id.).

         “The Time Inc. Plan provides, in pertinent part, that persons covered by the plan receive severance pay in an amount equal to two weeks of weekly pay for each year of service.” (Id. at ¶ 15). In contrast, the TCS Plan “provides that [Time Customer Service], in its discretion, may adopt a severance program” and that “severance benefits are to be paid under the terms of that program.” (Id. at ¶ 9). Stephens had 17.97 years of service with Time Customer Service at the time of her severance but “she was offered only one week's severance pay for each year of service.” (Id. at ¶ 16).

         Then, on December 8, 2015, “Stephens filed a written claim for benefits with both the Plan Administrator for the TCS Plan and the Plan Administrator for the Time Inc. Plan.” (Id. at ¶ 17). “In her claim, among other things, she requested that each of these plan administrators provide to her and incorporate into her claims file all the calculations they made that were relevant to the determination of Stephens'[s] benefits under” the Time Inc. Plan and under the TCS Plan. (Id.). Also in her claim, Stephens requested numerous other documents including, among others: “all benefit booklets and similar materials that referred to the provisions” of the TCS Plan or Time Inc. Plan; “all board resolutions” pertaining to the TCS Plan and the Time Inc. Plan; “all correspondence relating to her claim for benefits” under the TCS Plan and Time Inc. Plan; and “any documents, board resolutions or administrative actions that modified or amended the plan terms” of either plan. (Id.). “These requests were not addressed or responded to.” (Id.).

         Also on December 8, 2015, Stephens's attorneys sent a letter “request[ing] that each Plan Administrator explain fully their justification for concluding that [Stephens's] severance benefit was equivalent” to one week of base pay per year and “request[ing] all documents relating to this conclusion.” (Id. at ¶ 18). “This request was not addressed or responded to.” (Id.).

         Later, “[b]y letter dated March 18, 2016, Stephens, through her attorneys, notified both plan administrators that Stephens had made a formal claim for benefits under the TCS Plan and the Time Inc. Plan and a formal request for Plan documents.” (Id. at ¶ 19). That letter noted that the previous letter was never responded to and that the statutory deadline to provide the requested documents had passed. (Id.). In response, the Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Time sent an email and “enclosed as attachments the plan document for the TCS Plan and the plan document for the Time Severance Plan.” (Id. at ¶ 20). The letter also enclosed, among other things, the “portion of the TCS Plan [Summary Plan Description] that dealt with claims procedures.” (Id.). Then, on March 29, 2016, “Lescaille sent by email to Stephens'[s] counsel a so called fully executed agreement and release for Stephens.” (Id. at ¶ 21).

         After “Stephens [] exhausted her administrative remedies” (Id. at ¶ 22), she filed her three-Count Complaint in this Court on June 6, 2017, against the TCS Plan and Lescaille as Plan Administrator for the TCS Plan. (Doc. # 1). The Complaint asserts claims under ERISA §§ 502(a)(1)(B), 502(a)(3), and 502(c)(1), as codified in 29 U.S.C. § 1132, for denial of benefits, breach of fiduciary duty, and failure to respond to document requests. (Id.). Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss on August 1, 2017. (Doc. # 8). Stephens responded on August 14, 2017. (Doc. # 10). The Motion is ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         On a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true all the allegations in the complaint and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomms., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262 (11th Cir. 2004). Further, this Court favors the plaintiff with all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the complaint. Stephens v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 901 F.2d 1571, 1573 (11th Cir. 1990)(“On a motion to dismiss, the facts stated in [the] complaint and all reasonable inferences therefrom are taken as true.”). However,

[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.

Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)(internal citations omitted). Courts are not “bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).

         Furthermore, “[t]he scope of review must be limited to the four corners of the complaint.” St. George v. Pinellas Cty., 285 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2002). There is “an exception, however, in cases in which a plaintiff refers to a document in its complaint, the document is central to its claim, its contents are not in dispute, and the defendant attaches the document to its motion to dismiss.” Fin. Sec. Assur., Inc. v. Stephens, Inc., 500 F.3d 1276, 1284 (11th Cir. 2007). “In this context, ‘undisputed' means that the authenticity of the document is not challenged.” Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2005)(internal citation omitted). A consideration in determining whether a document is central to a plaintiff's claim is “whether the plaintiff would have had to offer the document in order to prove its case.” Fin. Sec. Assur., Inc., 500 F.3d at 1285.

         III. ...

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