United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ANTHONY M. ZUPA, Plaintiff,
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, Defendant.
RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS AND CROSS-MOTIONS
PERTAINING TO DISCOVERY
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. Senior United States District Judge.
Anthony Zupa brings this action, principally under §
502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
("ERISA"), against his former employer, Defendant
General Electric Company ("GE"). Through this
action, Plaintiff seeks to receive benefits under GE's
Supplemental Pension Plan ("SPP") to which he
alleges he is entitled. Pending before the Court is
Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as
well cross-motions pertaining to discovery. This Ruling
resolves those motions.
commenced employment with Defendant on April 14, 1997.
Amended Complaint ("AC") ¶ 3. In 2007, he was
promoted to a position in the "executive band, "
which potentially made him eligible for Defendant's SPP.
AC ¶¶ 3-4. The SPP is a "supplemental"
plan because it provides pension benefits to company
executives in addition to those offered to what Plaintiff
refers to as "regular employees." AC ¶ 4.
Plaintiff alleges that, in the event of the elimination of a
particular employment position, executive plan employees are
entitled to benefits under the SPP if the following three
conditions are met: (i) the employee "had a minimum of
five (5) years of pension quality years"; (ii) the
employee served "three (3) years as an executive in a
role that is being eliminated"; and (iii) "the
executive was within fifteen (15) years of retirement age
(60)." AC ¶ 4.
2014, Plaintiff's position was eliminated by GE for
reasons unrelated to Plaintiff's job performance. AC
¶¶ 6-8. At that point, Plaintiff "had accrued
seventeen (17) years of pension quality years with the
Defendant; seven (7) years as an executive in the role that
was being eliminated; and was within fifteen (15) years of
retirement at age 60." AC ¶ 9. Plaintiff thereby
alleges that as of his termination, he was entitled to
benefits under the SPP. AC ¶ 10. However, Plaintiff was
allegedly "advised that the Defendant was not providing
the Plaintiff with the supplemental pension." AC ¶
11. In response, Plaintiff "filed an appeal of the
denial to provide a supplemental pension with the
Defendant's Pension Center, case number CNF 509636 and
case number CNF 5096720, " which Defendant "failed
or refused to process." AC ¶¶ 12-13. Plaintiff
also alleges that Defendant refused to provide Plaintiff with
information regarding the pension plan and benefits package,
despite Plaintiff's requests therefor. AC ¶ 14.
January 13, 2016, in light of the above allegations,
Plaintiff brought a one-count complaint against Defendant in
Connecticut Superior Court. Doc.1-2. Defendant removed the
action to this Court on February 9, 2016, on the basis of
federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1331. Doc. 1. Defendant argued that the federal question
arises from its argument that Plaintiff's claim is barred
pursuant to ERISA. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 8-19. On March 14,
2016, Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint, the operative
pleading in this case, proffering two cause of action: (i)
violation of ERISA; and (ii) breach of contract. On March 31,
2016, Defendant moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On June 14, 2016, after the motion to
dismiss was fully briefed, Plaintiff filed a motion to compel
discovery. In response, Defendant filed a cross-motion for a
protective order against any discovery. On July 8, 2016, the
Court heard oral argument on the pending motions and reserved
Motion to Dismiss
Count One (ERISA)
moved to dismiss Count I of the Amended Complaint on two
grounds: (i) failure to exhaust administrative remedies; and
(ii) Plaintiff is not entitled to benefits under the SPP. For
reasons to be made clear, the Court begins with the
Second Circuit has "consistently recognized 'the
firmly established federal policy favoring exhaustion of
administrative remedies in ERISA cases.'"
Diamond v. Local 807 Labor Mgmt. Pens.
Fund, 595 F.App'x 22, 24 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting
Kennedy v. Empire Blue Cross & Blue
Shield, 989 F.2d 588, 594 (2d Cir. 1993)). In
Kennedy, the Second Circuit explained the rationale
for the exhaustion requirement:
The primary purposes of the exhaustion requirement are to:
(1) uphold Congress' desire that ERISA trustees be
responsible for their actions, not the federal courts; (2)
provide a sufficiently clear record of administrative action
if litigation should ensue; and (3) assure that any judicial
review of fiduciary action (or inaction) is made under the
arbitrary and capricious standard, not de novo.
989 F.2d at 594.
does not dispute Defendant's assertion that he did not
exhaust the administrative procedure called for by the SPP.
Rather, Plaintiff argues instead that he is excepted from
ERISA's exhaustion requirement. During the course of his
briefing, Plaintiff has ultimately suggested two separate
exceptions that obviated his need to exhaust his
administrative remedies. First, he argues that
exhaustion was made futile pursuant to Defendant's
failure to process his alleged "appeals."
Second, he argues that he should be "deemed to
have exhausted his administrative remedies" pursuant to
29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1(l). The Court considers these
arguments in turn.
Kennedy, the Second Circuit explained that an ERISA
claimant may be excused from exhaustion where the
administrative process would be "futile." However,
that futility exception is not applied lightly.
"[F]utility . . . excuse[s] an ERISA plaintiff's
failure to exhaust only '[w]here claimants make a
clear and positive showing that pursuing available
administrative remedies would be futile.'"
Davenport v. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 249 F.3d 130,
133 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Kennedy, 989 F.2d at
594); see also MacLennan v. Providen Life & Accident
Ins. Co., 676 F.Supp.2d 57, 66 (D. Conn. Dec. 15, 2009)
(a "'plaintiff invoking this [futility] doctrine has
a heavy burden'" (quoting Cole v. Travelers Ins.
Co., 208 F.Supp.2d 248, 262 (D. Conn. 2002)).
Davenport held that such a "clear and positive
showing" requires an "unambiguous application for