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Steele v. United Parcel Service

June 27, 2007

J. ALLEN STEELE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC., AND BROADSPIRE SERVICES, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendant Broadspire Services, Inc. ("Broadspire") has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings [doc. 16]. Although this civil action pertains to a typical benefit plan ("the Plan") governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., the circumstances underlying the present motion are far from typical. Nonetheless, because plaintiff's state law claims against Broadspire are preempted by ERISA, the motion will be granted and defendant Broadspire will be dismissed from this litigation.

I. Standard of Review

Motions for judgment on the pleadings are authorized by Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Courts analyze Rule 12(c) motions employing the same standard applied to Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. See Penny/Ohlmann/Nieman, Inc. v. Miami Valley Pension Corp., 399 F.3d 692, 697 (6th Cir. 2005) ("PONI") (citing Ziegler v. IBP Hog Market, Inc., 249 F.3d 509, 511-12 (6th Cir. 2001)). The court "must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept all of the complaint's factual allegations as true, and determine whether the plaintiff undoubtedly can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief." Hog Market, 249 F.3d at 512. The court need not, however, accept legal conclusions presented in the complaint, nor should it make unwarranted factual inferences. See PONI, 399 F.3d at 697 (quoting Mixon v. Ohio, 193 F.3d 389, 400 (6th Cir. 1999)).

If "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court," a Rule 12(c) motion is generally then converted to one for summary judgment under Rule 56. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The burden is then placed upon the movant to demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of disputed material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

There are exceptions to this general rule. Documents attached to a 12(c) motion are considered part of the pleadings if they are: (1) central to the plaintiff's claims; and (2) referred to in the plaintiff's complaint. See Weiner v. Klais & Co., 108 F.3d 86, 89 (6th Cir. 1997). Broadspire has attached the Plan to its memorandum of law, and the Plan has been considered by the court. Because the Plan and its terms are central to plaintiff's claims and because they are referenced in his complaint, Broadspire's submission of the Plan does not convert the present motion into one for summary judgment.

II. The Plan

Maintained by defendant United Parcel Service, Inc. ("UPS"), the Plan provides, inter alia, short-term ("STD") and long-term ("LTD") disability benefits for employees who meet the requirements for eligibility. UPS is named as the Plan administrator, with "the exclusive right and discretion to interpret the terms and conditions of the Plan, and to decide all matters arising in its administration and operation, including questions of fact and issues pertaining to eligibility for, and the amount of, benefits to be paid by the Plan." [Doc. 17, ex. 1, p. 109].

UPS is authorized to delegate its administrative duties "to one or more outside administrative service providers." [Doc. 17, ex. 1, p. 109]. Administration of STD and LTD "processing of claims and the payment of benefits" is delegated to "Broadspire National Services" [Doc. 17, ex. 1, p. 109-10], which no party argues to be a different entity than defendant "Broadspire Services, Inc." In its role as designated STD and LTD claims administrator, Broadspire serves in a fiduciary capacity. See 29 U.S.C. § 1002(21)(A); 29 C.F.R. § 2509.75-8.

Under the Plan, a participant is considered disabled for STD purposes "if the claims administrator, Broadspire, determines that you are unable to perform the material and substantial duties of your regular occupation because of an illness or injury." [Doc. 17, ex. 1, p. 91]. The Plan requires Broadspire to apply virtually the same standard to LTD applicants during the first phase (24 months) of LTD eligibility. [Doc. 17, ex. 1, p. 97]. Lastly, the Plan provides that "[i]f you are absent from your regular occupation for 12 months, you will be administratively separated from employment, regardless of your status on STD or LTD." [Doc. 17, ex. 1, p. 96].

III. The Complaint

The court accepts for purposes of the present motion that all of the complaint's factual allegations are true. See Hog Market, 249 F.3d at 512. The court will not, however, credit bare legal conclusions offered in the complaint, nor will it make unwarranted factual inferences. See PONI, 399 F.3d at 697.

Plaintiff was employed by defendant UPS from 1984 through 2005. [Complaint, ¶ 7]. He last worked for UPS as an airport ramp supervisor. [Complaint, ¶ 8].

Plaintiff was held out of work for three weeks in November 2004 by his doctor due to chest pains, hypertension, diabetes, stress, and depression. [Complaint, ΒΆΒΆ 16-18]. Plaintiff was subsequently approved for STD benefits ...


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