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Soland v. George Washington University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 7, 2013

Richard SOLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
The GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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James Charles Bailey, Jason H. Ehrenberg, Michael A. Tilghman, Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Christopher A. Weals, Simon Joseph Torres, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT L. WILKINS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Professor Richard Soland (" Soland" ) brings this action against his former employer The George Washington University (" GWU" ) for alleged violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461, as well as a claim of common law negligent misrepresentation. Soland claims that when he approached GWU about his plans to retire, they failed to inform him of a more generous retirement plan than the one he was offered, despite having the other plan under serious consideration at the time. He also claims GWU improperly refused to allow him to join the other plan when they ultimately announced it despite his being eligible to do so. Defendants GWU, The George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science Voluntary Separation Incentive Plan, and Donald Lehman and The George Washington University Office of the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs moved to dismiss Counts I and III of Soland's complaint (Dkt. No. 14), and moved for summary judgment on Count II (Dkt. No. 17). After careful consideration of the materials submitted by both parties, for the reasons below the Court finds that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 14) is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 17) is granted.

I. Factual Background

Soland taught at The George Washington University's School of Engineering and Applied Science (" SEAS" ) for over 30 years. (Dkt. No. 10 at ¶ 7). Around January 2008, he told the head of his department he planned to retire " at or around the end of 2009[,] and inquired as to whether a voluntary separation package would be available to him at or around the time of his proposed retirement." ( Id. ¶ 14). After some discussion with staff of The George Washington University (" GWU" ), Soland received a memorandum dated January 31, 2008 outlining the terms of a separation agreement. ( See Dkt. No. 14, Ex. 1). It stated that final approval of the terms would need to come from Donald Lehman, the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs (" Lehman" ). ( Id. )

Lehman approved the January 31, 2008 memorandum on April 7, 2008, and wrote Lehman on April 16, 2008 to confirm. ( Id. ). The letter from Lehman stated that

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Soland's " fulltime active status will continue through the 2008 Fall semester," he would " be granted administrative leave" for 2009, and his retirement " will be effective as of the end of the 2009 Fall semester." ( Id. ) A November 1, 2008 letter confirmed the amount of money Soland would receive for 2009. ( See Dkt. No. 10 at ¶ 17).

Around one year later, on October 23, 2009, Lehman announced a Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (" VSIP" ) " for all full-time regular active status faculty" in Soland's department. ( Id. ¶ 18). GWU did not send notice of the VSIP to Soland. ( Id. ). After Soland learned of the VSIP, he wrote to Lehman on December 2, 2009 and expressed interest in participating in it. ( Id. ¶ 22). Lehman told Soland he was not eligible because he was not " fulltime active status." ( Id. ). Nonetheless, Soland sought to register for the program, and mailed in certain paperwork associated with it. ( Id. ¶ 23). On February 16, 2010, Lehman denied Soland's claim for benefits under the VSIP, which Soland appealed on April 14, 2010. ( Id. ¶ 24). Lehman rejected that appeal by letter on June 11, 2010. ( Id. ¶ 25).

Soland filed his complaint in this Court on November 23, 2010, stating claims under ERISA §§ 502(a)(3) & 502(A)(1)(B). (Dkt. No. 1). After Defendants answered and moved to dismiss the claim filed under ERISA § 502(a)(3) (Dkt. Nos. 7 & 8), Soland filed an amended complaint on March 8, 2011, adding an additional count of common law negligent misrepresentation. (Dkt. No. 10).

II. Legal Standards

A. Motion To Dismiss

Defendants have moved to dismiss Counts I and III of Plaintiff's complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 14). " To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘ state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court construes the complaint liberally in the Plaintiff's favor and grants him all reasonable inferences. See Stokes v. Cross, 327 F.3d 1210, 1215 (D.C.Cir.2003). Despite the positive inferences granted in considering a motion to dismiss, a complaint must sufficiently " give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. ...


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