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Walker v. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

March 10, 2009


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

Document No. 98




After years of battling, the plaintiff requests that the court grant her leave to file a second amended complaint to clarify her claims, which stem from alleged violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq. The remaining defendants, current or former members of the board of directors of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America*fn1 ("PhRMA") and members of the PhRMA retirement committee (collectively the "individual defendants"), as well as the New York Life Insurance Company ("NYLIC") and New York Life Investment Management, Inc. ("NYLIM") (collectively the "NYL defendants"), oppose the plaintiff's motion, viewing it as a futile attempt to expand the battlefield. Because the plaintiff's proposed second amended complaint does not add any claims not previously asserted in her first amended complaint, the court grants the plaintiff's motion.


A. Factual Background

The plaintiff, an attorney, was a full-time employee of PhRMA in various professional capacities from 1977 to 1988. Mem. Op. (July 17, 2006) 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.*fn2 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. Pls.' Mot. to Alter or Amend J. at 5.

Sometime between 1991 and 1994, PhRMA reinterpreted its retirement plan to make part-time employees eligible for certain retirement benefits. Id. at 5. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated ERISA by failing to notify independent contractors of the changes affecting part-time employees and failing to provide plan documents. Id. at 5, 13, 16; Am. Compl. ¶ 71.

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 amended complaint appears to assert the following claims arising under ERISA*fn3: (1) that the plaintiff is entitled to benefits under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1) ("ERISA § 502"); (2) that the defendants interfered with her right 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 PhRMA defendants*fn4 moved for summary judgment in October 2005 on the grounds that the statute of limitations bars the plaintiff's ERISA claims and that ERISA preempts the plaintiff's common law claims. See generally PhRMA's Mot. for Summ. J. The court granted the PhRMA defendants' motion on July 17, 2006, determining that (1) the three-year statute of limitations bars the plaintiff's § 502 claim; (2) applying either a one-year or a three-year statute of limitation would bar the plaintiff's § 510 claim; (3) the statute of limitations bars the plaintiff's § 404 claim because the plaintiff had knowledge of the alleged breach or violation more than three years before she filed suit; and (4) ERISA preempts the plaintiff's D.C. common law claims. See generally Mem. Op. (July 17, 2006). The plaintiff then filed a motion to alter or amend judgment on July 31, 2006. But the court denied the plaintiff's motion, reaffirming the dismissal of each of the plaintiff's claims. Mem. Op. (Nov. 15, 2006).

The remaining defendants -- the individual defendants and the NYL defendants -- then filed motions to dismiss and for summary judgment. The plaintiff brings the same claims against these defendants that she brought against the PhRMA defendants. On August 7, 2008, the court issued a memorandum opinion clarifying that the reasoning rejecting the plaintiff's § 404 claim "applies equally to the claims against the remaining defendants to the extent that they rely on the misclassification of the plaintiff as an independent contractor or the withholding of information pertaining to part-time employees' eligibility status." Mem. Op. (Aug. 7, 2008) at 11-12. To the extent her § 404 claim alleges that the defendants failed to provide plan information, the court denied the New York Life defendants' motion for summary judgment because discovery was not yet complete and the record was insufficient to ...

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