United States District Court, District of Columbia
S. CHUTKAN United States District Judge
case arises out of Plaintiff Henry Perry's inability to
obtain lifetime retiree health benefits after working for the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) for seventeen
years. Defendants IBT and the Teamsters Benefit Trust (TBT)
maintain that Plaintiff was not eligible for lifetime retiree
health benefits because he did not meet the required term or
age criteria. Plaintiff maintains that Defendants
discriminated against him in violation of federal and state
law and improperly denied him benefits. For the reasons
stated below, the court will GRANT both Defendants'
motions to dismiss. The court will DENY IBT's motion for
Henry Perry, an African-American man, worked for the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) from 1995 to
2012; first as a project organizer, then as an officer of a
local union in Memphis, Tennessee, and finally as an
International Trustee. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14). He was
appointed Trustee to complete the term of a previous Trustee
who had retired. (Id. ¶ 22). After that term
ended, Perry was re-elected to a second term as Trustee,
which ended on March 21, 2012. (Id. ¶ 28).
Perry ran unsuccessfully for re-election again in the summer
of 2011. (Id. ¶ 41).
losing the 2011 election, Perry applied for pension and
lifetime retiree health benefits at IBT Headquarters in
Washington, D.C. (Id. ¶ 43). He alleges that
John Slatery, Director of the Benefit Trust Administration,
informed him that at the end of his term he would be six days
short for eligibility for lifetime health benefits.
(Id. ¶ 44). Perry claims that he subsequently
spoke with the IBT's General Secretary-Treasurer, Thomas
Keegel, who assured him he would be retained for an
additional six days in order to “bridge his time”
so that he would be employed until age sixty-five and qualify
for retiree health benefits. (Id. ¶ 46, 49).
states that, after several months, and believing he had been
denied the health benefits, he sent a letter to IBT on April
6, 2012, asking for an explanation of the denial.
(Id. ¶ 47). Three days later, he spoke to
Slatery and IBT's General Counsel and Assistant to the
General President about his benefits situation, and expressed
his desire to appeal the denial of benefits. (Id.
¶ 48). According to Perry, Slatery told him that he
would “forward” his appeal to the Health and
Welfare Board of IBT's Benefit Trust. (Id.
¶ 50). Several days later, Perry received a letter dated
April 11, 2012 from an IBT Benefits Manager informing him
that he was ineligible for retiree health benefits because he
had neither reached age sixty-five nor completed fifteen or
more years of service. (Id. ¶ 52; IBT Mot. to
Dismiss Ex. 3). The letter stated that he could contest the
determination by bringing the issue to the
“Administrative Committee of the International
Union's health and welfare plan” by
“inform[ing] the Administrative Committee, in writing,
of [his] intentions and present[ing], in detail, all of the
arguments and all of the evidence which [he] believe[d]
supports [his] position on this issue.” (IBT Mot. to
Dismiss Ex. 3). The letter included the writer's phone
number and email address in case of questions.
then sent a letter to Slatery on August 1, 2012, describing
his belief that Slatery intended to submit his appeal to the
Health and Welfare Board. (IBT Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 5). The
next day, Perry's then-lawyer Neil Bruntrager sent a
letter to Slatery stating that he had advised Perry that
“the Teamsters ha[d] arbitrarily denied him a bridge of
15 days” in an apparently “discriminatory and
retaliatory” manner and “because he has taken
positions contrary to leadership.” (IBT Mot. to Dismiss
Ex. 6). Bruntrager stated that his “research and past
dealings with the Teamsters have demonstrated that there have
been several instances where an individual's employment
has been bridged in order to meet [the] gap period” and
obtain health coverage. (Id.).
obtained new counsel at some point between 2012 and 2013, who
filed a Complaint on Perry's behalf in this court on
March 21, 2014. (ECF No. 1 in Perry I, No. 14-cv-484
(TSC)). The Complaint sought equitable relief under the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) section
502(a)(1)(B), “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.” (Id.). The Complaint
also alleged violations of the District of Columbia Wage
Payment and Collection Law (DCWPCL). (Id.). Perry
then filed an Amended Complaint alleging violations of the
D.C. Human Rights Act and interference with benefits in
violation of ERISA, as well as the original D.C. wage claims.
(ECF No. 5 in 14-cv-484; IBT Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 12). In a
second Amended Complaint, Perry alleged a count pursuant to
ERISA section 502(a)(3) for failure to make plan disclosures,
sought “reformation of the eligibility rule to set the
lowest number of years of service of any employee similarly
situated to Plaintiff to whom Defendant has awarded
eligibility for retiree health care benefits, ” alleged
breach of fiduciary duty, and alleged D.C. wage law
violations. (ECF No. 18 in 14-cv-484; id. Ex. 18).
15, 2015, this court issued a memorandum opinion in Perry
I addressing IBT's motion to dismiss the second
amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could
be granted. The court concluded that the obligation to
disclose plan documents and to provide information about
review of benefits determinations lies with the Plan, not the
employer, and therefore Perry could not state a claim against
IBT for failure to provide information, and that Perry was
not entitled to reformation in order to “share in the
benefit of  violations” of the Plan terms that he
alleged other “bridged” employees had received.
The court also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
over any D.C. claims. Perry v. Int'l Bhd. of
Teamsters, 118 F.Supp.3d 1, *7 (D.D.C. 2015). The
court's accompanying order stated, “For the reasons
set forth in the accompanying Memorandum Opinion, it is
hereby ORDERED that Defendant the International Brother of
Teamsters' motion (ECF No. 19) to dismiss the Second
Amended Complaint is GRANTED; and it is further ORDERED that
this case is dismissed without prejudice.” (14-cv-484,
ECF No. 24).
one month after this court issued its opinion in Perry
I, Plaintiff's counsel sent another letter regarding
Perry's benefits eligibility to the Teamsters Benefit
Trust (TBT), the administrator of the IBT's employee
benefit plan. (Am. Compl. ¶ 67). Two days later, on
August 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant suit (Perry
II). Plaintiff received a response from TBT on November
25, 2015, informing him that he was sixteen days short of
reaching age sixty five when his employment terminated, and
that he was not eligible for vacation days to reach age sixty
five because he was a Class III employee who was not
eligible, without written authorization, to accrue vacation.
(Id. ¶ 68-69). The letter stated: “If you
disagree with the Trustees' decision, you have the right
to bring suit in federal court under 29 U.S.C. Section
1132(a) to challenge the Trustees' decision. Please be
advised that the International Plan provides that any lawsuit
brought based on a claims or appeal denial will be untimely
if filed more than twelve months after the date of this
letter.” (TBT Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 21, Paterson
Decl. Ex. C).
Amended Complaint names both IBT and TBT as Defendants, seeks
benefits under ERISA section 502(a)(1)(B), alleges unlawful
interference and “discrimination” under ERISA
section 510 and requests relief under section 502(a)(3), and
includes a count for violation of the DCWPCL. (Id.
¶ 73-92). Defendants have moved separately to dismiss
the complaint, and IBT has moved for sanctions against
Plaintiff for filing a suit which IBT claims is precluded and
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim “tests the legal
sufficiency of a complaint.” Browning v.
Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). “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 (2009) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). Although a plaintiff may survive
a Rule 12(b)(6) motion even where “recovery is very
remote and unlikely, ” the facts alleged in the
complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). Moreover, a pleading must offer
more than “labels and conclusions” or a
“formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 555). If the facts as alleged, which must be taken as
true, fail to establish that a plaintiff has stated a claim
upon which relief can be granted, the Rule 12(b)(6) motion
must be granted. See, e.g., Am. Chem.
Council, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 922 F.Supp.2d 56, 61 (D.D.C. 2013); Clay v.
Howard Univ., 82 F.Supp.3d 426, 430 (D.D.C. 2015).
Rule of Civil Procedure 11 requires that an attorney certify
that any pleading or paper she files with the court is,
“to the best of [her] knowledge, information, and
belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the
circumstances:” (1) not intended to harass or cause
delay or unnecessary expense; (2) “warranted by
existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending,
modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new
law;” (3) contains factual contentions that are either
already supported by evidence or will likely be supported by
evidence after discovery; and (4) contains denials of facts
that are either warranted by the evidence or, where
explicitly indicated, “reasonably based on belief or a
lack of information.” Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 11(b). The
court may impose sanctions based on a violation of Rule 11(b)
on its own accord or based on a motion by a party. Fed. R.
Civ. Proc. (11)(c). But “once [a] district court finds
that a pleading is not well grounded in fact, not warranted
by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension,
modification or reversal of existing law, or is interposed
for any improper purpose, ‘Rule 11 requires
that sanctions of some sort be imposed.'”
Rafferty v. NYNEX Corp., 60 F.3d 844, 852 (D.C. Cir.
1995) (citing Westmoreland v. CBS, Inc., 770 F.2d
1168, 1174-75 (D.C.Cir.1985) (emphasis added)). Sanctions are
not discretionary in this Circuit if a court finds an
attorney has violated Rule 11.
IBT and TBT have both moved for dismissal under Rule
12(b)(6). IBT contends that the suit is barred by res
judicata, that it is untimely, that it fails to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted, and that it fails to
state a Wage Act claim under the DCWPCL. IBT further
contends that the court should impose sanctions on
Plaintiff's counsel for filing the suit. TBT argues that
it is not the right defendant for any of Plaintiff's
claim, and that all claims against it should therefore be
Claims against IBT
doctrine of res judicata comprises claim preclusion
and issue preclusion, both of which IBT argues bar
preclusion “precludes the parties or their privies from
relitigating issues that were or could have been
raised” in a prior action that resulted in a final
judgment on the merits. Drake v. F.A.A., 291 F.3d
59, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The doctrine applies where there is
(1) a final judgment on the merits, (2) a claim by the same
parties or their privies, and (3) a subsequent suit based on
the same cause of action. I.A.M. Nat. Pension Fund, Ben.
Plan A v. Indus. Gear Mfg. Co., 723 F.2d 944, 946-47
(D.C. Cir. 1983). Claims are based on the same cause of
action when they arise out of the same “nucleus of
facts, ” Drake, 291 F.3d at 66, or involve any
“rights of the plaintiff to remedies against the
defendant with respect to all or any part of the transaction,
or series of connected transactions, out of which the action
arose.” Stanton v. D.C. Court of Appeals, 127
F.3d 72, 78 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). New legal theories based on the same facts
as an otherwise precluded claim are also barred.
purposes of IBT's separate motion to dismiss, the
parties, Perry and IBT, are the same as in Perry I.
The cause of action is clearly the same: Plaintiff challenges
IBT's failure to take action-such as
“bridging” him with an additional short-term hire
or vacation days-that would have made him eligible for
retiree healthcare. Perry alleges a nearly identical series
of facts in both cases, which differ only by the inclusion of
counsel's letter to TBT in November 2015 after the
court's memorandum opinion in Perry I, and
TBT's subsequent response. Perry's Amended Complaint
does not allege any new cause of action based explicitly on
IBT's conduct after counsel sent the letter; rather, the
claim is based on IBT's conduct prior ...