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Stephens v. Time Customer Service, Inc.

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

December 6, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Plaintiff and Counterclaim-Defendant Nina Stephens' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Counterclaim (Doc. # 38), filed on November 19, 2017. Defendants and Counterclaim-Plaintiffs Time Customer Service, Inc. Severance Plan (“TCS Plan”) and Henry Lescaille responded on December 4, 2017. (Doc. # 39). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.

         I. Background

         When Stephens was terminated from her position with Time Customer Service, Inc., she signed a contractual separation Agreement and general release. (Doc. # 37 at 14-15). The Agreement stated that Stephens would receive $34, 693.65 in severance benefits under the terms of the severance program. (Id.). To be eligible to receive those benefits, Stephens had to sign the Agreement and attached release, which Stephens did. (Id.). The Agreement and release provided, among other things, that the $34, 693.65 was all Stephens was entitled to and that, if Stephens violated the terms of the Agreement, “the Company may seek all available relief under law or in equity, including, but not limited to, recoupment of amounts paid to” Stephens. (Doc. # 37-2 at 4). The release provided that Stephens released any claims under ERISA against all “the Time Inc. Entities and Persons, ” each of which was “intended to be a third party beneficiary under this Agreement.” (Id. at 8).

         The TCS Plan and Lescaille have paid the money specified by the Agreement to Stephens, yet Stephens has sued for additional benefits under the Plan. According to the TCS Plan and Lescaille, “[b]y asserting her [ERISA] claims against [them] in this action, [Stephens] has breached and continues to breach the terms of the Plan as forth in the Plan Document itself and the Agreement which is part of the Plan.” (Doc. # 37 at 17).

         Stephens 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.). The TCS Plan and Lescaille filed their Motion to Dismiss on August 1, 2017, (Doc. # 8), which the Court denied on August 22, 2017. (Doc. # 15).

         Then, on September 5, 2017, the TCS Plan and Lescaille filed their Amended Answer and Counterclaim, (Doc. # 22), which Stephens moved to dismiss. (Doc. # 26). On October 24, 2017, the Court granted Stephens' motion to dismiss the counterclaim in part. The Court dismissed Counts I and II for breach of contract and specific performance as preempted by ERISA but dismissed Counts III and IV for declaratory relief and equitable restitution with leave to amend. (Doc. # 31).

         The TCS Plan and Lescaille filed their Answer and Amended Counterclaim on November 3, 2017 (Doc. # 37), asserting two counterclaims: Count I for declaratory relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act and Count II for equitable restitution pursuant to ERISA § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3). Stephens moved to dismiss the Amended Counterclaim on November 19, 2017. (Doc. # 38). The TCS Plan and Lescaille have responded (Doc. # 39), and the Motion is ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss a counterclaim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is evaluated in the same manner as a motion to dismiss a complaint. Stewart Title Guar. Co. v. Title Dynamics, Inc., No. 2:04-cv-316-FtM-33SPC, 2005 WL 2548419, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 11, 2005). Thus, on a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true all the allegations in the counterclaim and construes them in the light most favorable to the counterclaim plaintiff. Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomms., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262 (11th Cir. 2004).

         Further, this Court favors the counterclaim plaintiff with all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the counterclaim. Stephens v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 901 F.2d 1571, 1573 (11th Cir. 1990). But,

[w]hile a [counterclaim] 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).

         III. ...

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