United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
EARL A. BRYANT, Plaintiff,
GENERAL ELECTRIC, Defendant.
J. ABRAMS, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
the Court is Defendant General Electric Company's Motion
to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. Doc. 48.
For the reasons articulated below, the Motion is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Earl A. Bryant, a former vice president of human resources
for Defendant, initiated this action pro se,
alleging various state-law claims against Defendant. Doc. 1
at 1. On August 4, 2016, Defendant filed its first Motion to
Dismiss, Doc. 10, which the Court granted because
Plaintiff's claims were defensively preempted under
ERISA. Doc. 37 at 4; Butero v. Royal Maccabees Life
Insur. Co., 174 F.3d 1207, 1212 (11th Cir. 1999).
Plaintiff was given leave to file an Amended Complaint
stating claims actionable under the civil enforcement section
of ERISA, Section 502(a), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a). Doc. 37
at 4. On June 5, 2017, Plaintiff, with the aid of counsel,
filed a First Amended Complaint. Doc. 47. Defendant filed its
Motion to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint on
June 19, 2017. Doc. 48. Plaintiff filed a Response on July
27, 2017, Doc. 50, and Defendant filed a Reply on August 3,
2017. Doc. 51.
12(b)(6) requires that the complaint plead enough facts to
state a claim for relief that is plausible-not just
conceivable-on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although a court must “take
the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, ”
it is not required “to accept the labels and legal
conclusions in the complaint as true.” Edwards v.
Prime, Inc., 602 F.3d 1276, 1291 (11th Cir. 2010);
see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.”). At bottom, “the factual allegations
in the complaint must possess enough heft to set forth a
plausible entitlement to relief.” Edwards, 602
F.3d at 1291 (punctuation omitted).
Complaint, as amended, alleges two claims: (1) that Defendant
breached its Plan obligations when it changed Plans in
violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1132; and (2) that Defendant
breached its fiduciary duty to Plaintiff when it misled
Plaintiff as to the details of the Plans in violation of 29
U.S.C. § 1102. Specifically, the Complaint alleges that:
(1) Defendant stated in a Summary Plan Description (SPD) that
ERISA-covered Plans-namely “employee/dependent medical
plan, employee dependent life insurance plan, pension,
retirement, retiree reimbursement account, pharmacy
assistance fund, and death benefits”- would continue
indefinitely; (2) that Defendant terminated or
substantially modified these plans without good cause or
unanticipated reasons; (3) that Defendant used language in
the SPD and in the Retirement Plan Handbook that Defendant
knew or should have known would confuse or mislead
participant as to when their coverage would terminate; (4)
that these Plans were “critical for against retirees,
[including] for Plaintiff;” and (5) that Defendant
“forced retirees to liquidate their savings and
security programs.” Doc. 47 at 1-5. The Complaint
further alleges that:
[Defendant] forced Plaintiff into a new Plan that cost him
thousands of dollars in retirement and pension funds,
rendering Plaintiff almost penniless, and causing him severe
economic injury, foreclosure, and the loss of his family
home; changing medical benefits that now do not provide the
coverage for doctors, prescriptions, and healthcare as
promised to continue ‘indefinitely' and
deliberately violating said warranty of ‘sunset
Doc. 47 at 5-6. Plaintiff seeks equitable relief under 29
U.S.C. § 1109, an award of “his retirement stock
and pension at the actual cash value with interest prior to
the forced, non-voluntary conversion of benefits, . . .
amounts to make Plaintiff whole . . ., [and] attorney fees
and costs pursuant to ERISA.” Doc. 47 at 7.
has sought relief under two subsections of ERISA. The law is
clear, however, that he cannot do so. “Under ERISA
§ 502(a)(1)(B) (codified at 29 U.S.C. §
1132(a)(1)(B)), a beneficiary in a plan governed by ERISA can
sue in federal court ‘to recover benefits due to him
under the terms of his plan.' Under a separate ERISA
subsection, § 502(a)(3) (codified at 29 U.S.C. §
1132(a)(3)), a beneficiary can ‘obtain other
appropriate equitable relief' for breach of fiduciary
duty.” Vaughn v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 2017 WL
748725, at *2 (N.D.Ga. Feb. 27, 2017) (citations omitted).
“These two distinct ERISA subsections are aimed at
redressing separate violations, and a claim properly brought
under one cannot proceed alternatively under the
discussed in more detail below, viewing the allegations in
the Complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the
Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was due lifetime benefits
under Plans administered by Defendant, that he was denied
those benefits when Defendant changed the Plans, and that the
Plan documents misled Plaintiff as to the nature of the Plan
benefits. Plaintiff further alleges he suffered damages as a
result of his reliance on the perpetual existence of the
benefits in the Plans. Thus, Plaintiff has stated claims
under ERISA for breach of Plan obligation and breach of
fiduciary duty under § 1132(a)(1)(B).
Plaintiff has stated a claim under § 1132(a)(1)(B), he
cannot alternatively seek relief under § 1132(a)(3).
Accordingly, as to Plaintiff's claim pursuant to §
1132(a)(3) that Defendant breached a fiduciary duty arising
out of the termination of the Plans that Plaintiff alleges
should have continued indefinitely, Plaintiff has failed to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Jones
v. Am. Gen. Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 370 F.3d 1065,
1074 (11th Cir. 2004) (holding courts must analyze
allegations supporting § 1132(a)(3) claims to ...