The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.
Granting in Part and Denying in Part the Defendants' Motions to
Striking the Punitive and Compensatory
Damages and the Jury Demand from Count Three; and
Denying the Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.
This matter arises under the Americans with Disabilities Act
("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101-12213, the Employment Retirement
Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001-1461,
and pendent and supplemental claims under the District of
Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), 2A D.C.Code Ann. §§ 1-2501,
et seq. (See Compl. ¶¶ 2, 3.) The plaintiff, Jane Fitts,
suffers from a medical ailment known as bi-polar disorder. (See
Compl. ¶ 1.) She claims that the Federal National Mortgage
Association ("Fannie Mae"), her former employer, and UNUM Life
Insurance Company of America ("UNUM"), the insurance company that
administers claims made under Fannie Mae's long term disability
plan, have unlawfully discriminated against her by classifying
her disorder as mental, rather than physical. (See Compl. ¶¶ 1,
20.) This classification has the effect of terminating her
long-term disability benefits after twenty-four months, rather
than at age 65. (Id.)
The plaintiff worked for Fannie Mae, a federally chartered
corporation, until 1995, when her bi-polar disorder caused her to
become disabled. (See Compl. ¶¶ 4, 17.) She began her legal
career with Fannie Mae in 1982, as senior counsel, and worked her
way up in Fannie Mae's legal department to the position of
Associate General Counsel. (See Compl. ¶¶ 1, 6, 7, 16.) Under
Fannie Mae's long term disability benefits plan, physically
disabled persons receive benefits until age 65, whereas persons
with mental, nervous or emotional diseases or disorders receive
benefits for a maximum of only 24 months. (See Compl. ¶¶ 15,
20.) UNUM, a provider of disability insurance, issued and
administered Fannie Mae's long term disability plan. (See
Compl. ¶¶ 8, 12.)
When the plaintiff became disabled in 1995 she applied for and
received short-term disability benefits. (See Compl. ¶ 18.) At
the termination of her short-term benefits she applied for and
began receiving long-term benefits. (See Compl. ¶ 19.) Shortly
thereafter, UNUM notified the plaintiff that her long-term
benefits would end after 24 months, since her bi-polar disorder
fell within the mental illness limitation of 24 months. (See
Compl. ¶ 20.) The plaintiff challenged the termination of her
benefits to both Fannie Mae and UNUM, and UNUM declined to change
its determination. (See Compl. ¶¶ 21, 22.) The record does not
indicate what action, if any, Fannie Mae took in response to the
plaintiff's request; however, the record makes clear that the
plaintiff did not receive long-term disability benefits beyond
the 24-month period.
Thereafter, the plaintiff brought this suit seeking
compensatory, exemplary and declaratory relief. (See Compl. ¶
1.) Her complaint contained five counts. Count One asserted a
claim under Title I of the ADA; Count Two asserted a claim under
Title III of the ADA; Count Three asserted a claim under ERISA;
Count Four asserted a claim under the DCHRA; and Count Five
claimed breach of contractual and common law duties. Defendant
Fannie Mae moved to dismiss the entire complaint, and Defendant
UNUM moved to dismiss Counts One, Two, Four and Five of the
complaint, to dismiss Count Three to the extent that the
plaintiff seeks to recover compensatory and punitive damages, and
to strike the plaintiff's demand for a jury trial. The plaintiff
moved for partial judgment on Count Three.
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) does not test
whether the plaintiff will prevail on the merits, but instead
whether the claimant has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v.
Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974).
The plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion to establish subject
matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See
Darden v. United States, 18 Cl.Ct. 855, 859 (1989); Kehr
Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir.),
cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1222, 111 S.Ct. 2839, 115 L.Ed.2d 1007
(1991); Boudreau v. United States, 53 F.3d 81, 82 (5th Cir.
1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1071, 116 S.Ct. 771, 133 L.Ed.2d
724 (1996). The court
may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim only if "it
is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts
that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v.
King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59
(1984) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct.
99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). When deciding a motion to dismiss, the
court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations
and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs.
See Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1427 (7th Cir. 1996).
However, the court need not accept as true the plaintiffs' legal
conclusions. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106
S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986).
2. Motion for Summary Judgment
The district court may enter summary judgment where the moving
party demonstrates that there exists no genuine issue of material
fact in dispute and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Once the moving party has
presented a properly supported motion, the nonmoving party must
go beyond the pleading to identify evidence that allows a
reasonable jury to find in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Drawing from affidavits, depositions, and
answers to interrogatories, the nonmovant must identify specific
facts indicating that a genuine issue exists for trial. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d
265 (1986). Moreover, the court does not have the function at the
summary judgment stage of weighing the evidence; rather, the
court must determine whether sufficient evidence exists for a
reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in the nonmovant's
favor and warrant a trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106
1. Count One — Title I of the ADA
In their motions for dismissal, both defendants assert that
Title I of the ADA does not cover the plaintiff. (See Def.
Fannie Mae's Mem. in Supp. at 10-13; Def. UNUM's Mem. in Supp. at
14-16.) In this respect, the defendants note that the ADA limits
the protection of Title I to a "qualified individual with a
disability," 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), defined as an individual who,
with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the
essential functions of the job, 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). (See id.)
Because the plaintiff cannot work due to her disability, the
defendants argue, she cannot perform her job functions and
therefore does not fall within the protections of Title I of the
ADA. (See id.) The plaintiff argues that Title I does not
specify that the plaintiff must be a "qualified individual with a
disability" at the time the plaintiff files suit. (See Pl.'s
Mem. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mots. to Dismiss at 17.)
This court, in the unrelated case of Fennell v. Aetna,
37 F. Supp.2d 40 (D.D.C. 1999), recently examined the issue of
whether a former employee can bring suit under Title I of the ADA
to challenge a disparity in the duration of long-term disability
benefits for a physical versus mental disorder. In that case the
court concluded that Title I of the ADA does not encompass such
suits. Because of the similarities of the two cases, the court
applies the reasoning in Fennell to the instant case and
arrives at the conclusion that the plaintiff does not have a
cause of action under Title I of the ADA. A restatement of the
court's reasoning in Fennell follows.
Neither the Supreme Court nor the District of Columbia Court of
Appeals has ruled on the issue of whether a cause of action
exists under Title I of the ADA for a former employee seeking to
challenge discrimination in disability benefits, and a split
exists among the circuits. See Blakley, Allison C., Is
Depression Disabling America's Group Insurance Plans? Mental
Health Benefit Parity and the ADA, 27-SUM Brief 40, 41 (1998).
In Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v.
CNA Ins. Cos., 96 F.3d 1039 (7th Cir. 1996), the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") brought suit asking
the court to decide to what extent, if at all, the ADA requires
equality of treatment among disabilities in benefit plans. CNA,
96 F.3d at 1041. In that case the former employee, Cynthia
Valladares-Toledo, received disability payments for a period of
two years because she suffered from a disability caused by a
mental or emotional disorder, whereas the long-term insurance
plan would have provided disability benefits until age 65 if she
had suffered from a physical disability. See CNA, 96 F.3d at
1041. Finding the EEOC's theory "at best, strained," the Seventh
Circuit held that a person with the status of "benefit recipient"
does not fit within the definition of someone filling an
employment position and therefore could not raise a cognizable
claim under Title I of the ADA. See CNA, 96 F.3d at 1043-45.
In Ford v. Schering-Plough Corp., 145 F.3d 601 (3d Cir.
1998), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 119 S.Ct. 850, 142 L.Ed.2d
704 (1999), the Third Circuit examined the same issue and reached
the opposite conclusion. In Ford the Third Circuit ruled that
Title I's prohibition against discrimination with respect to
terms, conditions and privileges of employment, including fringe
benefits, permits former employees to sue their former employers
over their disability benefits. Ford, 145 F.3d at 608. In
reaching this conclusion, the Third Circuit found the statutory
language of the ADA ambiguous in that a plain reading of the
language restricted eligibility to sue under Title I to persons
who currently work, whereas the statute had the stated intent of
covering employment practices including benefits. See Ford, 145
F.3d at 606. To correct for this ambiguity, the Third Circuit
read out the "temporal qualifier," i.e., the notion that Title
I applied to persons who currently work, by defining the term
"qualified individual with a disability" to include "former
employees who were once employed with or without reasonable
accommodations yet who, at the time of suit, are completely
disabled." Ford, 145 F.3d at 606.
In Castellano v. New York, 142 F.3d 58 (2d Cir. 1998), cert.
denied, ___ U.S. ___, 119 S.Ct. 60, 142 L.Ed.2d 47 (1998), the
Second Circuit also faced the issue of whether former employees
could challenge post-employment fringe benefits but declined to
resolve the issue. Rather than addressing the issue directly, the
Second Circuit disposed of the case on the merits after "assuming
without deciding" that ...