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Daniel A. Virtue v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Retirement & Family Protection Plan

August 22, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge


After Plaintiff Daniel Virtue began participating in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Retirement and Family Protection Plan, IBT amended the Plan to retroactively make employees like Virtue ineligible. Virtue then brought this suit under subsections (a)(1)(B) and

(a)(3) of 29 U.S.C. § 1132. He alleges that the Amendment violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Defendants IBT and the Plan now move for partial judgment on the pleadings, seeking to dismiss the § 1132(a)(3) counts. They argue that a § 1132(a)(3) claim exists only when other relief is unavailable and that here § 1132(a)(1)(B) offers adequate relief for all of the alleged ERISA violations. Because this Court concludes that § 1132(a)(1)(B) provides inadequate relief for at least one alleged violation, it will deny the Motion.


According to the Complaint, which the Court must assume is true for purposes of resolving the instant Motion, IBT hired Virtue on or about October 1, 2000. See Compl., ¶ 2. At that time, any employee who worked 1000 hours in a twelve-month period (except an employee hired for limited duration) was eligible to participate in the Plan. See id., ¶ 8. Under those eligibility rules, Virtue became a Plan participant in October 2001. See id., ¶ 14.

Eligibility rules changed, however, on November 13, 2001, when the IBT board adopted Amendment 2001-C. Retroactive to April 1, 1999, the Amendment made "stipend employees" like Virtue ineligible to participate in the Plan. See id., ¶¶ 9-10. In one fell swoop, the Amendment nullified Virtue's participation in the Plan and retroactively made his entire employment period ineligible for Plan participation.

Virtue first challenged his ineligibility in administrative proceedings, but the Plan administrator denied his appeal. See id., ¶¶ 10-14. Virtue then brought this suit. Defendants have now filed the instant Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).

II.Legal Standard

This Court evaluates a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings under the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Robinson-Reeder v. Am. Council on Educ., 532 F. Supp. 2d 6, 12 (D.D.C. 2008). The factual allegations presented in the Complaint must thus be presumed true and should be liberally construed in Plaintiff's favor. See Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163 (1993). The notice-pleading rules are "not meant to impose a great burden upon a plaintiff." Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation omitted). Plaintiff must put forth "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Though a plaintiff may survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion even if "recovery is very remote and unlikely," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)), the facts alleged in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555.

A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) must rely solely on matters within the pleadings, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d), which includes statements adopted by reference as well as copies of written instruments joined as exhibits. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c). Where the Court must consider "matters outside the pleadings" to reach its conclusion, a motion for judgment on the pleadings "must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d); see also Yates v. District of Columbia, 324 F.3d 724, 725 (D.C. Cir. 2003).


In this suit, Virtue principally protests that: (1) 29 U.S.C. § 1054(g), ERISA's "anti-cutback" rule, barred the retroactive application of the Amendment; (2) § 1054(h) prohibited the Amendment because IBT gave insufficient notice; and (3) the Plan administrator miscalculated Virtue's hours. See Compl., ¶¶ 8, 14, 17-18. (The third issue is irrelevant to the instant Motion. See Opp. at 3 n.2.) Virtue's Complaint contains four counts, all brought under two subsections of 29 U.S.C. § 1132, which provides a cause of action for alleged violations of ERISA.

Count IV arises under § 1132(a)(1)(B), which focuses on a "wrongful denial of benefits." Varity Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489, 512 (1996). This subsection authorizes a civil action by a plan participant or beneficiary "to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan." As the Supreme Court has emphasized, courts must heed the specific language of § 1132(a)(1)(B), which "speaks of 'enforcing' the 'terms of the plan,' not of changing them." CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 131 S. Ct. 1866, 1876-77 (2011) (emphasis in original) (brackets omitted).

Counts I, II, and III, conversely, are brought under § 1132(a)(3). That subsection is a "'catchall' provision[]" that "act[s] as a safety net, offering appropriate equitable relief for injuries caused by violations that §[1132] does not elsewhere adequately remedy." Varity, 516 U.S. at 512. Section 1132(a)(3) authorizes a civil action by a plan participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary "to enjoin any act or practice which violates any provision of this subchapter [§§ 1001-1191c] or the terms of the plan" or "to obtain other appropriate equitable relief (i) to redress such violations or (ii) to enforce any provisions of this subchapter or the terms of the plan." Because § 1132(a)(3) acts as a safety net, the Supreme Court has directed that "where Congress elsewhere ...

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