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Brown v. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

March 26, 2015

JESSIE BROWN and CHARLES MALONE, Plaintiffs,
v.
MERCK SHARP & DOHME CORPORATION F/K/A MERCK & CO., INC. AND SCHERING-PLOUGH CORPORATION RETIREMENT PLAN, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING MERCK SHARP'S MOTION TO DISMISS

JON P. McCALLA, District Judge.

Before the court is Defendant Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation's ("Merck Sharp") Motion to Dismiss, filed November 20, 2014. (ECF No. 11.) Plaintiffs timely responded in opposition on December 11, 2014. (ECF No. 19.) The Court held a motion hearing on the Motion to Dismiss on December 22, 2014, at which both parties were represented. (ECF No. 22.) For the reasons stated below, Merck Sharp's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiffs Jessie Brown and Charles Malone are former employees of the Schering-Plough Corporation. (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9.) Both Plaintiffs retired or terminated their employment from Schering-Plough before the corporation merged with Merck Sharp in 2009. (Id.) While the Plaintiffs worked for Schering-Plough, both they and the company made payments to pension and retirement plans for Plaintiffs' benefit. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

Since his retirement, Mr. Brown has received monthly retirement payments. (Id. at ¶ 8.) In March 2014, Mr. Brown received a brochure for his retirement policy that allegedly contained a lump sum payment option. (Id. at ¶ 14.)

Based on the brochure, Plaintiffs submitted multiple requests to Merck Sharp to obtain a lump sum payment of their pension and retirement benefits from the Schering-Plough Corporation Retirement Plan[1] (the "Plan"). (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.) Merck Sharp, as Plan Administrator of the Plan, denied Plaintiffs' request for a lump sum payment, stating that the Plaintiffs were not entitled to the lump sum payment option. (Id. at ¶ 19; Memo. of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss at 2, 3.)

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against Merck Sharp and MSD Consumer Care, Inc. on September 17, 2014;. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) The Complaint alleged that Merck Sharp and MSD Consumer Care violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and asserted three other state law claims. (Id.) The Complaint sought the following relief: (1) judgment requiring the Defendants to pay Plaintiffs a lump sum payment of all benefits due under the Plan; (2) awarding Plaintiffs prejudgment interest; (3) awarding Plaintiffs their attorneys' fees, costs, and expenses; and (4) awarding Plaintiffs three times their compensatory damages pursuant to the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. (Id.)

Merck Sharp and MSD Consumer Care filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(7) the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 11.) The Motion to Dismiss stated that, under Rule 12(b)(6), the Plaintiffs' ERISA claim failed because the terms of the Plan stated that the Plaintiffs did not qualify for the lump sum option and that Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. (Id.) The Motion to Dismiss also stated that MSD Consumer Care was not a proper party to the suit, as it was neither the applicable ERISA plan nor an administrator of the applicable ERISA plan. (Id.) Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(7), the Motion to Dismiss stated that the claim should be dismissed because the Plaintiffs failed to name the Plan as a party; Merck Sharp and MSD Consumer Care argued that the Plan is a necessary and indispensable party to the litigation. (Id.) Finally, the Motion to Dismiss stated that all of Plaintiffs' state law claims failed because they were preempted by ERISA. (Id.)

Plaintiffs responded to the Motion to Dismiss on December 11, 2014. (ECF No. 19.) Plaintiffs' response reasserted its argument that Merck Sharp and MSD Consumer Care violated ERISA and that Plaintiffs agreed to dismiss all of its state law claims. (Id.)

Also on December 11, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Amend Complaint (ECF No. 18), which the Court granted on December 19, 2014. (ECF No. 20). In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs added the Plan as a defendant and dropped MSD Consumer Care as a defendant. (ECF No. 21.) The Amended Complaint includes claims solely for violations of ERISA. (Id.)

The Court held a Motion Hearing on December 22, 2014, regarding Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 22.) The parties agreed to rely on their previous filings with respect to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Id.) Defendants reasserted their arguments that Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint should be dismissed because (1) Plaintiffs were not eligible for the lump sum payment option ...


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