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Finley v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp.

January 26, 2007

JACK FINLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DUN & BRADSTREET CORP. AND THE DUN & BRADSTREET CORP. RETIREMENT ACCOUNT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chesler, U.S.D.J.

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), by Defendants Dun & Bradstreet Corp. and the Dun & Bradstreet Corp. Retirement Account (collectively, "Defendants" or "D&B"). For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

BACKGROUND

This case arises out of disputes over a retirement plan for Dun & Bradstreet employees. According to the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Jack Finley ("Finley") has been employed by D&B since 1978. Prior to January 1, 1997, D&B provided Finley with a defined benefit retirement plan (referred to as the "Traditional Plan Terms"). As of January 1, 1997, D&B amended the Traditional Plan Terms to convert the plan to a cash balance plan (referred to as the "Cash Balance Terms" or the "Plan"). On September 7, 2005, Finley filed a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging various ways that, in amending the Traditional Plan Terms, D&B violated ERISA. On March 30, 2006, on motion, that court transferred the case to this district. An Amended Complaint was filed on June 5, 2006. Defendants have filed the instant motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim.

ANALYSIS

I. Legal Standards

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384-85 (3d Cir. 1994). A complaint should be dismissed only if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium, 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is whether the claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief, not whether that person will ultimately prevail. See Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). "[A] complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

While a court will accept well-pled allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. See Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906 n.8 (3d Cir. 1997). All reasonable inferences, however, must be drawn in the plaintiff's favor. See Sturm v. Clark, 835 F.2d 1009, 1011 (3d Cir. 1987). Moreover, the claimant must set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his or her claims or to permit inferences to be drawn that the elements exist. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2); Conley, 355U.S. at 45-46. "The defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented." Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005).

The Supreme Court has characterized dismissal with prejudice as a "harsh remedy." New York v. Hill, 528 U.S. 110, 118 (2000). Dismissal of a count in a complaint with prejudice is appropriate if amendment would be inequitable or futile. "When a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend a deficient complaint after a defendant moves to dismiss it, the court must inform the plaintiff that he has leave to amend within a set period of time, unless amendment would be inequitable or futile." Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).

II. Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion

A. Count One: Violation of § 1054(b)(1)(H)

In Count One of the Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that the Plan violates ERISA § 204(b)(1)(H) (29 U.S.C. § 1054(b)(1)(H)) by reducing benefit accrual by reason of age. ERISA pension plan benefit accrual requirements are set forth in 29 U.S.C. § 1054. Plaintiffs invoke provision (i) of subsection (b)(1)(H):

(i) Notwithstanding the preceding subparagraphs, a defined benefit plan shall be treated as not satisfying the requirements of this paragraph if, under the plan, an employee's benefit accrual is ceased, or the rate of an employee's benefit accrual is reduced, because of the attainment of any age.

29 U.S.C. § 1054(b)(1)(H).

Plaintiff alleges that, under the Cash Balance Terms of the Plan, younger workers accrue greater benefits than similarly situated older workers:

Under the [] Plan, an older worker with the same rate of pay and years of service, receiving the same dollar amount of contribution to her cash balance account, buys an increasingly smaller annuity with that money because the closer the older worker gets to retirement age, the less time the money contributed has to earn annual interest credits under the Plan.

(Pl.'s Opp. Br. 23.) Thus, when a younger worker and a similarly-situated older worker receive equal contributions to the Plan, the younger worker ends up with a larger benefit at retirement age because time and the principle of compound interest have caused the contribution to grow more. The question for this Court is whether this phenomenon constitutes a reduction in the "rate of an employee's benefit accrual," within the meaning of the statute.

While the Third Circuit has not addressed this matter of statutory interpretation, the Seventh Circuit recently ruled on it in Cooper v. IBM Personal Pension Plan, 457 F.3d 636 (7th Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 75 U.S.L.W. 3368 (2007), holding that this phenomenon does not constitute a reduction in the "rate of an employee's benefit accrual," nor is it age discrimination. Cooper, like this case, involved an age discrimination challenge to a cash balance, defined benefit pension plan under ยง 1054(b)(1)(H). In an opinion ...


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