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Walker v. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

November 15, 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.: 34

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the plaintiff's motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). The plaintiff asks the court to vacate its July 17, 2006 order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants. She argues that the court erroneously ruled that the plaintiff's Employment Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq., claims are time-barred.*fn1 Because the plaintiff had notice of her claims on or before September 2001 and because the plaintiff fails to demonstrate fraudulent concealment by the defendants, the court denies the plaintiff's motion to alter or amend.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The plaintiff, an attorney, was a full-time employee of defendant Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America*fn2 ("PhRMA") in various professional capacities from 1977 to 1988. Mem. Op. (July 17, 2006) ("Mem. Op.") at 2. Following the birth of her second child in 1988, the plaintiff requested but was denied a part-time work arrangement because PhRMA's then-president "did not believe in part-time professionals." Id. Instead, PhRMA's General Counsel, Bruce Brennan, suggested that the plaintiff serve as an independent contractor. Id. The plaintiff accepted this arrangement and signed an independent contractor agreement on March 24, 1988.*fn3 Id. At the expiration of that agreement, the plaintiff and PhRMA signed identically worded agreements every year until 2001. Id. at 3. The final agreement, signed on September 12, 2001, notified the plaintiff that PhRMA did not intend to continue their relationship following the expiration of the agreement on June 30, 2002. Id.

The independent contractor agreements signed by the plaintiff each year 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." Id. at 2-3. The plaintiff alleges that she signed the independent contractor agreements based on the belief that part-time employees, like independent contractors, were ineligible for employee benefits. Id. at 2. In other words, the plaintiff alleges that she "had no reason" to challenge her classification as an independent contractor rather than as a part-time employee because she believed the "terms and conditions of her employment" were the same as those of part-time employees. Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Alter or Amend J. ("Pl.'s Mot.") at 5.

Sometime between 1991 and 1994, PhRMA reinterpreted its retirement plan to make part-time employees eligible for certain retirement benefits. Pl.'s Mot. at 5. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated ERISA because they failed to notify independent contractors of the changes affecting part-time employees. Id. at 5, 13, 16.

B. Procedural Background

The plaintiff filed her original complaint on November 11, 2004 and she amended her complaint in August 2005. Although difficult to parse, the complaint appears to assert the following claims arising under ERISA*fn4 : (1) that the plaintiff is entitled to benefits under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) ("ERISA § 502"); (2) that the defendants interfered with her rights to retirement benefits by improperly classifying her as an independent contractor, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1140 ("ERISA § 510"); and (3) that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties by either failing to notify the plaintiff that part-time employees were eligible to receive benefits, or by classifying her as an independent contractor, rather than as a part-time employee, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1104 ("ERISA § 404").

The defendants*fn5 moved for summary judgment in October 2005 on the grounds that the plaintiff's claims were barred by the statute of limitations and were preempted by common law. The court granted the defendants' motion on July 17, 2006, and the plaintiff filed a motion to alter or amend ...


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