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Untalasco v. Lockheed Martin Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 18, 2017

EDUARDO UNTALASCO, Plaintiff,
v.
LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON United States District Judge.

         More than one year after the applicable three-year statute of limitations period expired, pro se Plaintiff Eduardo Untalasco (“Untalasco”) filed a claim in this Court against Defendant Lockheed Martin Corporation (“Lockheed”) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 18 U.S.C. §§1001-1461. On March 31, 2017, this Court issued an order that GRANTED Lockheed's Motion to Dismiss Untalasco's complaint and DISMISSED his action. (See Order Granting Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 16.) This Memorandum Opinion explains the reasons for that order. In short, this Court agrees with Lockheed that Untalasco's complaint is untimely and that none of Untalasco's proffered explanations authorize this Court to excuse that procedural defect.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The basic facts of this matter-which are drawn from Untalasco's Amended Complaint (see Am. Compl., ECF No. 6) and the attachments thereto-are as follows. Untalasco is the brother of Noemi D. Untalasco (“the Decedent”), who died on February 22, 2010. (See Annex A to Am. Compl. (“2012 Appeal Denial Letter”), ECF No. 6 at 5; Annex D to Am. Compl., ECF No. 6 at 7.)[1] The Decedent was an employee of Lockheed and had a deferred vested pension benefit under a Lockheed employee pension plan. (See 2012 Appeal Denial Letter.) Just before her death, the Decedent requested that Lockheed begin paying her pension benefits effective February 1, 2010, and she signed a form to that effect on January 31, 2010. (See id.; Ex. 1 to Am. Compl., ECF No. 6 at 3.) Lockheed contends that it did not receive the signed benefit election form before its February 7, 2010, expiration date (see Annex B to Am. Compl. (“2010 Denial Letter”), ECF No. 6 at 6), and as a result, Lockheed ultimately denied Untalasco's subsequent claim for his sister's pension benefits (which he brought on behalf of their mother). Lockheed's denial letter was dated January 3, 2012 (see 2012 Appeal Denial Letter); Untalasco filed an ERISA complaint in this Court on March 7, 2016-more than four years later-seeking to challenge Lockheed's denial of the request for benefits. (See Compl., ECF No. 1, at 1.)[2]

         On June 13, 2016, Lockheed filed a motion for a more definite statement, arguing that Untalasco's handwritten complaint was so vague that Lockheed could not reasonably prepare a response. (See Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for a More Definite Stmt., ECF No. 4-1, at 1.) Thereafter, Untalasco filed (1) a document entitled “Motion to Commence Judicial Review of Case, ” which this Court construed as an amended complaint (see Am. Compl.), and (2) a response to the motion for a more definite statement and a supplement thereto (see Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for a More Definite Stmt., ECF No. 8; Suppl. to Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for a More Definite Stmt., ECF No. 9).

         On August 22, 2016, Lockheed moved to dismiss Untalasco's Amended Complaint, arguing that his lawsuit is untimely because Untalasco filed it more than three years after Lockheed denied his appeal. (See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mot”), ECF No. 11; Def.'s Mem. at 3-5.) In Untalasco's response to Lockheed's motion to dismiss, Untalasco agrees that his complaint is untimely, but argues that the Court should allow his suit to proceed nevertheless because, as a pro se litigant, he is “inadept [sic] to ERISA 3-year Statute of Limitations[, ]” and that his 14-month delay “can be cured leniently by the court liberally for my position as Pro Se (Unrepresented).” (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”), ECF No. 14, at 1.) Untalasco further maintains (without citation or explanation) that “[t]he Six Year Statute of Limitations and the Doctrine of Laches apply here.” (Id. at 2.) Untalasco also filed another document entitled “Inclusion of Plaintiff's Supplement, etc.[, ]” in which he argues that “my sister has finished [her] contract with defendant [and] thus[] [is] entitled to all the rights and prerogatives as a retired employee of the defendant.” (Inclusion of Pl.'s Suppl. (“Pl.'s Inclusion”), ECF No. 13, at 1 (emphasis in orginal).)

         Lockheed's motion to dismiss became ripe and ready for this Court's review on October 25, 2016. (See Def.'s Reply in Supp. of Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 15.) This Court issued an Order granting Lockheed's motion and dismissing Untalasco's complaint on March 31, 2017. (See Order, ECF No. 16.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motions To Dismiss Under Federal Rule Of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint on the grounds that the complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “Although ‘detailed factual allegations' are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff must furnish ‘more than labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'” Busby v. Capital One, N.A., 932 F.Supp.2d 114, 133 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “[M]ere conclusory statements” are insufficient to make out a cause of action against a defendant, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, and 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.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         B. Application Of The Pleading Rules To Pro Se Parties

         When evaluating the pending motion to dismiss, this Court must be mindful of the fact that Untalasco is proceeding in this matter pro se. It is well established that the pleadings of pro se parties are to be “liberally construed” and that a pro se complaint, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers[.]” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). However, it is also quite clear “[t]his benefit is not . . . a license to ignore the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Sturdza v. United Arab Emirates, 658 F.Supp.2d 135, 137 (D.D.C. 2009) (citation omitted); see also McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993). Thus, although a pro se complaint “must be construed liberally, the complaint must still present a claim on which the Court can grant relief.” Budik v. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Med. Ctr., 937 F.Supp.2d 5, 11 (D.D.C. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Moore v. Motz, 437 F.Supp.2d 88, 90 (D.D.C. 2006) (noting that “[e]ven a pro se plaintiff's inferences . . . need not be accepted” if they “are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); see also Crisafi v. Holland, 655 F.2d 1305, 1308 (D.C. Cir. 1981) (explaining that a pro se complaint must state a claim upon which relief can be granted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Lockheed has moved to dismiss Untalasco's complaint on the grounds that lawsuits arising from a denial of a claim for ERISA benefits are subject to a three-year limitations period, and Untalasco admits that he commenced his suit outside of this window. As explained fully below, this Court has granted Lockheed's motion to dismiss because it agrees that Untalasco's complaint is ...


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