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Morton v. Nexagen Networks, Inc.

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

April 20, 2018

JOHN MORTON, Plaintiff,



         This cause comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.[1] (Doc. No. 4). Plaintiff opposes the motion. (Doc. No. 9). As explained below, the motion is denied.

         I. Standard of Review

         In deciding a motion to dismiss, the district court is required to view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Murphy v. Federal Deposit Ins. Corp., 208 F.3d 959, 962 (11th Cir. 2000)(citing Kirby v. Siegelman, 195 F.3d 1285, 1289 (11th Cir. 1999)). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set out in detail the facts upon which he bases his claim. Instead, Rule 8(a)(2) requires a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)(citation omitted). As such, a plaintiff is required to allege “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (citation omitted). While the Court must assume that all of the allegations in the complaint are true, dismissal is appropriate if the allegations do not “raise [the plaintiff's] right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. (citation omitted). The standard on a 12(b)(6) motion is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail in his or her theories, but whether the allegations are sufficient to allow the plaintiff to conduct discovery in an attempt to prove the allegations. See Jackam v. Hospital Corp. of Am. Mideast, Ltd., 800 F.2d 1577, 1579 (11th Cir. 1986).

         II. Background

         Plaintiff John Morton alleges the following in his complaint (Doc. No. 2): In January of 2013, when Plaintiff was 57 years old, Plaintiff was hired by Defendants Nexagen Networks, Inc. (“Nexagen”) and Insperity PEO Services, L.P.[2] At that time, he was denied health insurance benefits as a condition of employment.

         On April 16, 2014, Plaintiff received a furlough notice indicating that he would be off work from May 1, 2014 through July 24, 2014. The furlough notice stated that benefits, if elected, would be paid during the furlough. Plaintiff interpreted the furlough notice as implying that benefits were available, but denied, when he began employment with Defendants. On June 19, 2014, Plaintiff received notice that his employment would be terminated on July 24, 2014.

         On August 18, 2014, Plaintiff was offered another position with Defendants in a virtual office capacity with benefits. Plaintiff was told that benefits would be available during open enrollment, from November 2014 through January 1, 2015. On December 3, 2014, Plaintiff enrolled in family healthcare benefits for his wife and himself.

         Plaintiff later learned that all younger employees were offered health insurance benefits. Therefore, Plaintiff now believes that he was eligible for health insurance benefits during his first period of employment (prior to July 24, 2014).

         In October of 2015, Plaintiff's wife suffered a heart issue that required overnight hospitalization. Healthcare benefits were paid under the group health plan that Plaintiff had enrolled in.

         On July 27, 2016, with only three days notice, Plaintiff's employment was terminated. Plaintiff was told that his termination was due to a lack of available work, but Plaintiff contends that there is direct evidence to the contrary. Specifically, there was considerable work remaining to be done, and Defendant Nexagen had been provided a large military contract at the time of Plaintiff's termination. Plaintiff also contends that he was replaced by a younger woman in her twenties or thirties.

         Thus, Plaintiff contends that the reason given for his termination-lack of work-was a mere pretext for the real reasons: his age and the fact that Defendants did not wish to continue providing healthcare coverage for Plaintiff and his wife due to their age (both were over 60 years old at the time of Plaintiff's termination). Plaintiff contends that Defendants' perception of the cost of healthcare coverage for Plaintiff and his wife (which was partially confirmed by his wife's hospitalization and their high prescription costs) led Defendants to terminate Plaintiff's employment.

         Plaintiff contends that there is further evidence of discrimination due to the fact that within twenty days after his termination, Defendant Nexagen reached out to Plaintiff and asked to hire him on an independent contractor basis with no benefits. These employment offers continued through October 2016. Again, Plaintiff points out that Defendants offered health benefits to younger employees but would not offer them to him.

         As a result, on July 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed a charge of age discrimination with the Florida Commission on Human Rights (“FCHR”). He indicated that he had suffered discrimination from July 27, 2016 through October 2016. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit in state court, asserting an age discrimination claim under the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”). The case was removed to this Court on the basis of complete ERISA preemption (federal question jurisdiction) and diversity jurisdiction.

         III. Motion to Dismiss

         In the instant motion, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's age discrimination claim is either completely preempted by ERISA and/or expressly preempted by ERISA and should be dismissed. As explained below, ...

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