United States District Court, D. New Jersey
STEPHEN J. BUIVIDAS, CHERRY HILL, NJ, Attorney for plaintiff Anthony DeBlasio.
JUDITH P. RODDEN, POZZUOLO RODDEN, P.C., CHERRY HILL, NJ, Attorney for defendants Central Metals, Inc. and Roma Steel Erection, Inc.
NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.
Before the Court is the joint motion of Defendants Central Metals, Inc. and Roma Steel Erection, Inc. to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
The Court has federal question subject matter jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 as the case arises under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461. The Court also has supplemental jurisdiction over the related state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
This case arises out of Defendants' alleged refusal to provide Plaintiff with benefits to which Plaintiff claims he is entitled. Plaintiff Anthony DeBlasio was employed by Defendants Central Metals, Inc. and Roma Steel Erection, Inc. for approximately twenty-five years. (Pl.'s Compl. [Doc. No. 1] ¶ 6.) According to the Complaint, while Plaintiff was employed by the Defendants, he enrolled as a participant in the "Central Metals/Roma Steel Defined Benefit Plan" ("Central Plan" or "Plan"), which was created pursuant to ERISA. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) The purpose of the Central Plan was to provide various retirement, death, and disability benefits to the Defendants' employees. (See generally, id. Ex. 1, Summary Plan Description.)
At some point Plaintiff allegedly became disabled and sought to recover benefits under the Central Plan (Id. ¶¶ 12-15.) According to Plaintiff, however, Defendants have consistently "failed and refused to pay Plaintiff the benefits which he has duly requested, and to which he is entitled pursuant to the terms of the Plan and the requirements of ERISA." (Id. ¶ 16.)
In addition to the Central Plan, the Complaint alleges that the Defendants purchased a life insurance policy from Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Company, of which Plaintiff was the insured and Plaintiff's survivors were the beneficiaries. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff claims that when he learned the Phoenix Policy was a "split dollar" policy,  he asked the Defendants to make him the sole owner of the Policy. (Id. ¶ 21.) However, Plaintiff complains that Defendants have repeatedly "failed and refused... to name [him] as sole owner of the Policy, " which has prevented him from "ascertain[ing] a portion of the cash value to which he is entitled." (Id. ¶ 24.)
Based on Defendants' alleged misconduct under the Plan and the Policy, Plaintiff filed this action in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County. The Complaint contains five counts: one count for violation of the ERISA statute, and four state common law claims. (Id. ¶¶ 30-51.) Plaintiff's state law claims allege: "Breach of Contract, " "Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, " "Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, " and "Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress." (Id.)
Defendants removed the action to this Court and moved to dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Notice of Removal [Doc. No. 1].) The essence of Defendants' argument is that Plaintiff has not stated an ERISA claim because he has not exhausted his administrative remedies and his state law claims are preempted by ERISA. (Defs.' Br. [Doc. No. 4] 4-13.) Defendants also argue that Plaintiff's breach of contract claim must be dismissed because the Complaint does not identify or allege the existence of a contract relating to ownership of the Policy. (Id. at 13.)
III. Standard for Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)
When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Under the liberal federal pleading rules, it is not necessary to plead evidence, and it is not necessary to plead all the facts that serve as a basis for the claim. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 562 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). However, "[a]lthough the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth an intricately detailed description of the asserted basis for relief, they do require that the pleadings give defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Baldwin Cnty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 149-50 n.3 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).
A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks "not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'" Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) ("Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for all civil actions'...."); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) ("Iqbal... provides the final nail in the coffin for the no set of facts' standard that applied to federal complaints before Twombly.").
Following the Twombly/Iqbal standard, the Third Circuit has instructed a two-part analysis in reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; a district court must accept all of the complaint's well pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). Second, a district court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief.'" Id . (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). A complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. Id .; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the "Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: stating... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element"). A court need not credit either "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" in a complaint when ...