Cook v. Unisys Fed. Gov't, Grp., Div. of Unisys Corp.

Decision Date03 September 2015
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 7:14-cv-579
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia
PartiesRACHAEL-LINETTE COOK, Plaintiff, v. UNISYS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, GROUP, a Virginia division of UNISYS CORPORATION, a Pennsylvania Corporation; and employees, et al, Defendant.

By: Hon. Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Rachael-Linette Cook ("Cook") filed this action pro se, asserting various federal and state law claims against her former employer Defendant Unisys Corporation ("Unisys"), arising out of the denial of her disability benefits. Unisys moved to dismiss Cook's Complaint for failure to state a claim, and alternatively requests a more definite statement. Dkt. No. 8. Cook responded by filing multiple motions seeking, among other things, to remand her case to state court, default judgment against Unisys, and to strike Unisys's motion to dismiss. Dkt. Nos. 11 & 16.2 Having reviewed the relevant documents, case law, and statutory authority, I recommend GRANTING Unisys's motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 8) because the Complaint fails to state a legal claim upon which relief may be granted. I also recommend DENYING Cook's motion to remand this matter to state court (Dkt. No. 11), motion for default judgment (Dkt. No.11), motion to prove authority to represent (Dkt. No. 11), motion to strike Unisys's motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 16) and motion for entry of default (Dkt. No. 16).

I. Background3

Cook worked as a senior level consultant for Unisys from 2007 through 2011. Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 6-8, 17. As an employee for Unisys, Cook participated in Unisys's employee welfare benefits plan ("the Plan"), which was administered by Aetna Life Insurance Company ("Aetna"). Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 8, 17, 49,156-58. Cook stopped working in September 2008 and requested short-term disability benefits from Aetna, which approved her claim in March 2009. Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 22 & 30. Cook remained employed with Unisys and continued to receive disability through July 13, 2011, when Aetna terminated her benefits following an independent medical examination. Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 27-36, 43-44.

The bulk of Cook's Complaint targets Aetna's denial of disability benefits, alleging that it violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 15. Cook also peppers her Complaint with numerous other state and federal claims, relating to discrimination based upon her gender, religion and age; invasion of her medical and personal privacy; stalking; sabotage; intimidation; reckless endangerment; harassment; and surveillance for genetic testing purposes. Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 9-15, 22, 27-28, 32-33, 45-47, 57.

With regard to discrimination, Cook alleges, among other things, that: 1) one of her supervisors engaged in favoritism towards Catholics, expressed jealousy of her genius and pending patent, and made sexual innuendoes relating to career advancement at Unisys (Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 9-10, 57); 2) her supervisors and coworkers mocked her for disabilities resulting from her reconstructive hand surgery, isolated her from work meetings, required her to work late hours,and advised her to schedule physical therapy appointments outside of business hours (Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 9-14); 3) she was discriminated and retaliated against for reporting discriminatory behavior to Unisys, evidenced by Unisys's failure to pay her full salary for weeks, refusal to pay her vacation time despite her active status while on short-term disability, and denial of reasonable accommodations to transfer departments or telecommute (Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 11-15, 27-28); 4) she was retaliated against for "exposing the preferential treatment of [Cook's] disabled manager." (Dkt. No 1-1, p. 32); and 5) she trained a younger employee to work during another employee's maternity leave, but Unisys intended that younger employee to take her position (Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 13).

Cook also makes other miscellaneous claims unrelated to discrimination. She claims that Aetna's Complex Claims Investigation Unit rented the empty apartments on her floor in her apartment building to stalk her (Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 32-33); Unisys and Aetna sabotaged her car's tire in a murder attempt (Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 47); and Unisys engaged in unspecified threats, intimidation, reckless endangerment, harassment, and surveillance for genetic testing purposes. Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 15-16, 42-43. Cook alleges violations of her medical and personal privacy because she saw Unisys employees at her doctor's office (Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 22 & 45-46); suspects that Unisys employees influenced her surgeon to perform malpractice; and asserts that Unisys's independent medical examiner provided her with a biased and incomplete disability assessment. Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 19 & 38-39. Cook also asserts that Unisys attempted to foreclose on her home and set booby traps inside her home. Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 43-44.

A. Prior Proceedings

On January 30, 2013, Cook brought suit against Aetna in the Southern District of Florida, alleging violations of ERISA and seeking reinstatement of her long-term disability benefits andan award of past-due benefits. See Cook v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., No. 0:14-cv-60231 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 30, 2013). On October 1, 2013, Cook filed an amended complaint in that matter, styled similarly to the Complaint here, to add Unisys as a defendant and include many of the same allegations before this court. See Cook, No. 0:14-cv-60231 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 1, 2013). The court struck Cook's amended complaint finding that it was "convoluted and contains a variety of irrelevant information," and declined to add Unisys as a defendant. See Cook, No. 0:14-cv-60231, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 1, 2013). The court determined that the amended complaint would not survive a motion to dismiss and that leave to amend would be futile. Id. at *3. The court ultimately granted summary judgment to Aetna, holding that the administrative record supported a finding that Cook was not disabled and that Aetna decided Cook's benefits claim correctly as the Plan's administrator. See Cook, No. 0:14-cv-60231, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 7, 2014). Cook subsequently appealed her case to the Eleventh Circuit, which affirmed the decision on January 7, 2015 and issued its mandate on February 18, 2015. See Cook v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., No. 14-10473 (11th Cir. Jan. 7, 2015); Cook, No. 14-10473 (11th Cir. Feb. 18, 2015).

While her case was pending in the Southern District of Florida, Cook filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against Unisys for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 72-73. On June 24, 2014, the EEOC mailed a "Notice of Right to Sue" letter to Cook, which Cook received on June 26, 2014. Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 3 & 71. The right-to-sue letter advised Cook that the EEOC would not pursue her claim, and stated in bold print that Title VII, ADA, and ADEA lawsuits "must be filed in federal or state court WITHIN 90 DAYS of your receipt of this Notice." Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 71. On September 24, 2015, Cook signed and dated the Complaintfiled in this action. Dkt. No. 1-1, p. 66. Cook filed the Complaint on September 25, 2015 in Roanoke City Circuit Court, ninety-one days after receiving the EEOC's letter. Dkt. No. 1, p. 3.

Unisys removed Cook's case to this court on October 24, 2014, and moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim, or in the alternative, for a more definite statement. Dkt. No. 1 & 8. Cook subsequently filed a myriad of motions, including a motion to remand to state court, motion for default, motion for default judgment, motion to prove authority to represent, motion to strike defendants' motion to dismiss and all other filings, motion for reconsideration of the pro hac vice order admitting counsel for Unisys, and a motion for sanctions. Dkt. Nos. 11, 16, 20, & 35.

II. Cook's Motion to Remand

Cook seeks remand of this matter to state court (Dkt. No. 11), arguing that Unisys unfairly removed the case without her consent, without legal authority, and without following proper procedure. Dkt. No. 11, p. 1-2. Cook primarily contends that "most of [her] claims and issues are 'Commonwealth' in nature" and that her reference to ERISA should not be heard by the federal court because it was not related to her discrimination claims.4 Dkt. No. 11, p. 4.

I find that Unisys's removal of this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367, 1441, and 1446 was proper. "A case arises under federal law within the meaning of § 1331 ... if a well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law." Empire Healthchoice Assurance. Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 689-90 (2006) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see also Miller v. Baker, No. CIV.A. 5:09CV00094, 2009 WL4841019, at *2 (W.D. Va. Dec. 15, 2009) (noting a plaintiff can avoid federal jurisdiction by only relying on state law in her complaint). Cook's Complaint includes multiple federal claims, including claims under the ADA, ADEA, Equal Pay Act ("EPA"), Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), and ERISA. Dkt. No. 1, p. 2. Cook's Complaint necessarily depends on the resolution of federal law based on the statutes she lists as relevant to her claims. See, e.g, Howell v. Holland, No. 4:13-CV-00295-RBH, 2015 WL 751590, at *21 (D.S.C. Feb. 23, 2015) (recognizing original federal jurisdiction over ADA claims); Jaudon v. Executive Dir., No. C/A2:05-3050DCNRSC, 2007 WL 1239248, at *7 (D.S.C. Apr. 27, 2007) (noting original federal jurisdiction over ADEA claims); see also Bahari v. Countrywide Home Loans, 2005 WL 3505604, at *3 (D. Md. Dec. 16, 2005) ("Courts in the Fourth Circuit have long held that concurrent...

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