Powers v. At&T

Decision Date03 September 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 15-cv-01024-JSC
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California
PartiesRICHARD B. POWERS, Plaintiff, v. AT&T, et al., Defendants.
Re: Dkt. No. 15

Plaintiff Richard B. Powers ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, brings this action against his former employer, Defendant Pacific Bell Telephone Company, Inc. ("Pac Bell") and its benefits plan administrator, AT&T Services, Inc. ("AT&T" and together, "Defendants") in connection with Plaintiff's retirement and claim of benefits thereafter.1 In the First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated various provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1371, discriminated against him on the basis of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634, and are liable for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. (Dkt. No. 11 at 1.) Now pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for a more definite statement or, in the alternative, to dismiss seven claims of the FAC. The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition withoutoral argument. See N.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 7-1(b). Having considered the parties' submissions and the relevant legal authority, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion for a more definite statement and for dismissal of certain claims.

Plaintiff's Employment History

Plaintiff, a Marine Corp veteran, worked at AT&T from December 1999 until September 2011. (Dkt. No. 11 ¶¶ 1, 2.) He began working as a splicing technician, then worked as a cable locator from 2000 to 2005. (Id. ¶ 7.) During that time, he consistently received positive performance reviews. (Id.)

In 2005 or 2006, Judith Cooper became the manager of Plaintiff's maintenance crew. (Id. ¶ 8.) At Plaintiff's first meeting with Ms. Cooper, she offered him a lower-paying position. (Id.) Plaintiff declined the position, and Ms. Cooper responded by saying that Plaintiff would "be in the load the rest of [his] life"i.e., responding to service calls. (Id. ¶ 8.) Ms. Cooper then transferred Plaintiff back to his original position at the company. (Id.) After six months, she transferred him to the troubleshooting team, but without providing adequate tools or training. (Id.) In 2006, Ms. Cooper mentioned that a 34-year-old employee was more productive than Plaintiff, who was then 59 years old. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff complained to another manager about the age-related comment, but the manager responded that "age discrimination is hard to prove." (Id.)

In 2007 or 2008, Plaintiff was assigned a new supervisor, Victor Diaz. (Id. ¶ 10.) Mr. Diaz provided Plaintiff with a "sunrise," which is a radar device used to locate a problem in a phone line that improves workers' efficiency. (Id. ¶ 11.) When Ms. Cooper discovered that Plaintiff was using a sunrise, she instructed another employee to take it away from him. (Id.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff's positive performance reviews continued. (Id. ¶ 12.)

On May 9, 2008, Plaintiff submitted to Ms. Cooper and Mr. Diaz a letter expressing concerns about AT&T's safety, age discrimination, and veteran status/priorities. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff's union held a meeting with Mr. Diaz to discuss the complaint, but no changes were made. (Id. ¶ 14.) Instead, Ms. Cooper continued her discrimination. (Id.) For example, she denied Plaintiff's request for a bucket truck, which improves a worker's safety and efficiency. (Id.¶ 15.) Plaintiff complained to management that he thought the denial was related to age discrimination. (Id. ¶ 15.) At a dinner celebrating Plaintiff's 10-year anniversary of employment with AT&T, Ms. Cooper encouraged colleagues to call Plaintiff "old man," which they did. (Id. ¶ 19.) In 2011, when Plaintiff returned to work after his mother's funeral, Ms. Cooper repeatedly asked Plaintiff in front of other colleagues when he was going to retire. (Id. ¶ 20.) And in late July 2011, Plaintiff was directed to close open work tickets, even though there was still work to be performed; Plaintiff thought this was related to age discrimination, as well. (Id. ¶ 21.)

In late July or early August 2011, Plaintiff told Ms. Cooper that he would retire in September. (Id. ¶ 22.) When asked by Mr. Diaz, Plaintiff agreed that he felt like he was being forced to retire. (Id.) Plaintiff's administrative manager received his written notice of retirement. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 23.) As part of his retirement, Plaintiff took a rollover IRA retirement plan. (Id. ¶ 24.)

AT&T's Post-Retirement Conduct

In 2011, AT&T gave notice to Plaintiff's union, the National Communication Workers of America, that he had retired. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) In November 2011 the union confirmed his retirement. (Id. ¶ 26.) Although Plaintiff is a "participant and beneficiary of AT&T's ERISA-governed benefit plan[,]" he never received his benefits—such as severance and health, dental, and life insurance—once he retired. (Id. ¶ 27.) As a result, on July 10 and 12, 2012, Plaintiff filed an administrative ERISA claim with AT&T and a complaint with the EEOC. (Id. ¶ 28.)

At the end of July 2012, AT&T sent Plaintiff a letter denying his claim for benefits on the grounds that he did not satisfy the "Modified Rule of 75."2 (Id. ¶ 30.) AT&T later conceded that the rule was not applicable to Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff appealed the denial. (Id.) While the appeal was pending, in November 2012, Plaintiff received a letter from AT&T stating, "We are required to send the attached notice to active and former employees of AT&T who are eligible for AT&T-sponsored health care coverage." (Id. ¶ 32.) The attached notice was AT&T's Summary Plan Description (referred to through the FAC as "SPD") related to health and welfare and Care Plusplans. (Id.) In December 2012 Plaintiff received a letter from his local union stating that AT&T had "coded" him as retired. (Id. ¶ 33.) In April 2013, Plaintiff received a notice from AT&T advising him to log on to AT&T's online benefits program to review "AT&T Retiree News." (Id. ¶ 34.)

At the end of June 2013, AT&T denied Plaintiff's appeal, affirming the denial of his claim for benefits. (Id. ¶ 35.) In the letter, AT&T acknowledged that the "Modified Rule of 75" did not apply to Plaintiff, but his claim was nevertheless denied because he "received a 'vested pension' rather than a 'service pension' and could not change his status to 'retired.'" (Id. ¶ 35.) "None of these explanations are legitimate bases for denying Plaintiff's benefits." (Id. ¶ 36.) The EEOC provided Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter in December 2014. (Id. ¶ 38.)

In the caption of the FAC, Plaintiff lists the following nine causes of action: (1) improper denial of ERISA benefits (§ 502); (2) violation of ERISA (§ 503); (3) violation of the anti-cutback rule (§ 204(g)); (4) interference with ERISA benefits; (5) violation of the Older Worker's Benefit Protection Act; (6) failure to provide plan documents; (7) breach of fiduciary duty; (8) breach of written contract; and (9) age discrimination ("constructive discharge"). (Id. at 1.) The FAC otherwise contains no recitation of the claims for relief. However, in the prayer for relief Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, statutory penalties and damages, interest, attorneys' fees and costs, and injunctive relief. (Id. at 6.)

I. Rule 12(e)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) provides that a party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading this is "so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." A Rule 12(e) motion should be considered in light of the liberal pleading standards of Rule 8(a). See Bureerong v. Uvawas, 922 F. Supp. 1450, 1461 (C.D. Cal. 1996) (citing Sagan v. Apple Comp., Inc., 874 F. Supp. 1072, 1077 (C.D. Cal.1994) ("Motions for a more definite statement are viewed with disfavor and are rarely granted because of the minimal pleading requirements of the Federal Rules.").

A Rule 12(e) motion should be granted when the complaint is so vague that the defendantcannot discern the nature of the plaintiff's claims and thus cannot frame a response. See Famolare, Inc. v. Edison Bros. Stores, Inc., 525 F. Supp. 940, 949 (E.D. Cal. 1981); Boxall v. Sequoia Union High Sch. Dist., 464 F. Supp. 1104, 1114 (N.D. Cal. 1979). If the complaint notifies the defendant of the substance of the plaintiff's claim, a 12(e) motion should not be granted. See QTL Corp. v. Kaplan, No. C-97-20531 EAI, 1998 WL 303296, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 2, 1998) (noting that 12(e) motions should be denied "where the complaint is specific enough to apprise the defendant of the substance of the claim being asserted."); see also San Bernardino Pub. Emps. Ass'n v. Stout, 946 F. Supp. 790, 804 (C.D. Cal. 1996) ("A motion for a more definite statement is used to attack unintelligibility, not mere lack of detail, and a complaint is sufficient if it is specific enough to apprise the defendant of the substance of the claim asserted against him or her."). A 12(e) motion should also be denied if the detail sought is obtainable through discovery. Davison v. Santa Barbara High Sch. Dist., 48 F. Supp. 2d 1225, 1228 (C.D. Cal. 1998).

II. Rule 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) contends that the complaint fails to allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) a party is only required to make "a...

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