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Walker v. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

July 17, 2006

BARBARA J. WALKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH AND MANUFACTURERS OF AMERICA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 15

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS'MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This case comes before the court on the defendants'*fn1 motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff alleges that defendant Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America ("PhRMA") erroneously classified her as an independent contractor, thus denying her pension and welfare benefits in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq., and the common law of the District of Columbia ("D.C."). Because the plaintiff's claims that the defendants violated ERISA are time-barred and because ERISA preempts the plaintiff's common law claims, the court grants the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The plaintiff, an attorney, began her employment at PhRMA's predecessor organization, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association ("PMA") in December 1977 as Regional Director for State Government Affairs. Pl.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to PhRMA Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 3. The plaintiff was promoted to the positions of Assistant General Counsel and Associate General Counsel in July 1982 and November 1986, respectively. Id. at 4.

Following the birth of her second child in 1988, the plaintiff requested a part-time work arrangement. Id. at 6. PMA's President, Gerald Mossinghoff, however, "did not believe in part-time professionals" and denied her request. Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 19 at 1-2. As a result, the plaintiff resigned her position on March 28, 1988 and sought employment elsewhere. Defs.' Mem. of P. & A. in Support of their Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mot.") at 2; Pl.'s Opp'n at 6. After the plaintiff received an offer of employment elsewhere, PhRMA's General Counsel, Bruce Brennan, suggested to her that she serve as an independent contractor to PhRMA. Pl.'s Opp'n at 6. The plaintiff accepted and signed an independent contractor agreement on March 24, 1988.*fn2 Id. The plaintiff alleges that she signed the independent contractor agreement based on the belief that, as a professional, she was ineligible for part-time employment and based on the belief that part-time employees were not eligible for employee benefits. Pl.'s Mot. at 6.

The independent contractor agreement stated that the plaintiff "shall be engaged as an independent contractor, not as an employee, and shall not be entitled to participate in any of [PhRMA's] employee benefit plans." Defs.' Mot. Ex. 8A. The March 24, 1988 independent contractor agreement terminated on January 28, 1989. Once that independent contractor agreement expired, PhRMA and the plaintiff signed identically worded agreements every year until 2001. Defs.' Mot Ex. 8; Defs.' Mot. at 3. The parties executed their final agreement on September 12, 2001. Defs.' Mot. at 3. "This final agreement also provided [the plaintiff] with notice of PhRMA's intent not to continue their relationship following the expiration of the agreement on June 30, 2002." Id.

B. Procedural Background

The plaintiff filed her original complaint on November 11, 2004. On August 25, 2005, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, and the defendants moved for summary judgment on October 21, 2005. The court now turns to the defendants' motion.

III. ANALYSIS

The plaintiff's complaint makes several claims under ERISA and D.C. common law. Specifically, the plaintiff asserts that: (1) she is entitled to benefits under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) ("ERISA § 502"); (2) the defendants interfered with her rights to retirement benefits, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1140 ("ERISA § 510"); (3) the defendants breached their fiduciary duties, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1104 ("ERISA § 404"); (4) PhRMA abused the parties' employment relationship; and ...


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