Fitts v. Federal Nat. Mortg. Ass'n, Civil Action No. 98-617(RMU).

Decision Date29 March 1999
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 98-617(RMU).
Citation44 F.Supp.2d 317
PartiesJane G. FITTS, Plaintiff, v. FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE ASSOCIATION, and UNUM Life Insurance Company of America, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

John M. Fedders, Washington, John J. Witmeyer III, Chris Carney, Ford, Marrin, Esposito, Witmeyer & Gleser, L.L.P., New York City, for Plaintiff.

Mary Carolyn Cox, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, Washington, DC, for Defendant Fannie Mae.

Frank C. Morris, Jr. Teresa L. Jakubowski, Epstein, Becker & Green, P.C., Washington, DC, for Defendant Unum.


URBINA, District Judge.

Granting in Part and Denying in Part the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss;

Striking the Punitive and Compensatory

Damages and the Jury Demand from Count Three; and

Denying the Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.


This matter arises under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461, and pendent and supplemental claims under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), 2A D.C.Code Ann. §§ 1-2501, et seq. (See Compl. ¶¶ 2, 3.) The plaintiff, Jane Fitts, suffers from a medical ailment known as bi-polar disorder. (See Compl. ¶ 1.) She claims that the Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae"), her former employer, and UNUM Life Insurance Company of America ("UNUM"), the insurance company that administers claims made under Fannie Mae's long term disability plan, have unlawfully discriminated against her by classifying her disorder as mental, rather than physical. (See Compl. ¶¶ 1, 20.) This classification has the effect of terminating her long-term disability benefits after twenty-four months, rather than at age 65. (Id.)

This case comes before the court on Fannie Mae's motion to dismiss, on UNUM's motion to dismiss and to strike the jury demand, and on the plaintiff's motion for partial judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the court grants in part and denies in part the defendants' motions to dismiss, strikes Count Five from the complaint as it states a form of relief and not a cause of action, and incorporates the plaintiff's request for declaratory judgment into the plaintiff's ERISA claim (Count Three). Additionally, the court strikes the plaintiff's request for punitive and compensatory damages from her ERISA claim (Count Three), and the court strikes the plaintiff's claim for a jury trial as to the ERISA claim. The court denies the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to her ERISA claim.


The plaintiff worked for Fannie Mae, a federally chartered corporation, until 1995, when her bi-polar disorder caused her to become disabled. (See Compl. ¶¶ 4, 17.) She began her legal career with Fannie Mae in 1982, as senior counsel, and worked her way up in Fannie Mae's legal department to the position of Associate General Counsel. (See Compl. ¶¶ 1, 6, 7, 16.) Under Fannie Mae's long term disability benefits plan, physically disabled persons receive benefits until age 65, whereas persons with mental, nervous or emotional diseases or disorders receive benefits for a maximum of only 24 months. (See Compl. ¶¶ 15, 20.) UNUM, a provider of disability insurance, issued and administered Fannie Mae's long term disability plan. (See Compl. ¶¶ 8, 12.)

When the plaintiff became disabled in 1995 she applied for and received short-term disability benefits. (See Compl. ¶ 18.) At the termination of her short-term benefits she applied for and began receiving long-term benefits. (See Compl. ¶ 19.) Shortly thereafter, UNUM notified the plaintiff that her long-term benefits would end after 24 months, since her bi-polar disorder fell within the mental illness limitation of 24 months. (See Compl. ¶ 20.) The plaintiff challenged the termination of her benefits to both Fannie Mae and UNUM, and UNUM declined to change its determination. (See Compl. ¶¶ 21, 22.) The record does not indicate what action, if any, Fannie Mae took in response to the plaintiff's request; however, the record makes clear that the plaintiff did not receive long-term disability benefits beyond the 24-month period.

Thereafter, the plaintiff brought this suit seeking compensatory, exemplary and declaratory relief. (See Compl. ¶ 1.) Her complaint contained five counts. Count One asserted a claim under Title I of the ADA; Count Two asserted a claim under Title III of the ADA; Count Three asserted a claim under ERISA; Count Four asserted a claim under the DCHRA; and Count Five claimed breach of contractual and common law duties. Defendant Fannie Mae moved to dismiss the entire complaint, and Defendant UNUM moved to dismiss Counts One, Two, Four and Five of the complaint, to dismiss Count Three to the extent that the plaintiff seeks to recover compensatory and punitive damages, and to strike the plaintiff's demand for a jury trial. The plaintiff moved for partial judgment on Count Three.

A. Legal Standard
1. Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) does not test whether the plaintiff will prevail on the merits, but instead whether the claimant has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). The plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion to establish subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Darden v. United States, 18 Cl.Ct. 855, 859 (1989); Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1222, 111 S.Ct. 2839, 115 L.Ed.2d 1007 (1991); Boudreau v. United States, 53 F.3d 81, 82 (5th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1071, 116 S.Ct. 771, 133 L.Ed.2d 724 (1996). The court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim only if "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). When deciding a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs. See Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1427 (7th Cir.1996). However, the court need not accept as true the plaintiffs' legal conclusions. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986).

2. Motion for Summary Judgment

The district court may enter summary judgment where the moving party demonstrates that there exists no genuine issue of material fact in dispute and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Once the moving party has presented a properly supported motion, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleading to identify evidence that allows a reasonable jury to find in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Drawing from affidavits, depositions, and answers to interrogatories, the nonmovant must identify specific facts indicating that a genuine issue exists for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Moreover, the court does not have the function at the summary judgment stage of weighing the evidence; rather, the court must determine whether sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in the nonmovant's favor and warrant a trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

B. Analysis
1. Count One—Title I of the ADA

In their motions for dismissal, both defendants assert that Title I of the ADA does not cover the plaintiff. (See Def. Fannie Mae's Mem. in Supp. at 10-13; Def. UNUM's Mem. in Supp. at 14-16.) In this respect, the defendants note that the ADA limits the protection of Title I to a "qualified individual with a disability," 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), defined as an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job, 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). (See id.) Because the plaintiff cannot work due to her disability, the defendants argue, she cannot perform her job functions and therefore does not fall within the protections of Title I of the ADA. (See id.) The plaintiff argues that Title I does not specify that the plaintiff must be a "qualified individual with a disability" at the time the plaintiff files suit. (See Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mots. to Dismiss at 17.)

This court, in the unrelated case of Fennell v. Aetna, 37 F.Supp.2d 40 (D.D.C. 1999), recently examined the issue of whether a former employee can bring suit under Title I of the ADA to challenge a disparity in the duration of long-term disability benefits for a physical versus mental disorder. In that case the court concluded that Title I of the ADA does not encompass such suits. Because of the similarities of the two cases, the court applies the reasoning in Fennell to the instant case and arrives at the conclusion that the plaintiff does not have a cause of action under Title I of the ADA. A restatement of the court's reasoning in Fennell follows.

Neither the Supreme Court nor the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has ruled on the issue of whether a cause of action exists under Title I of the ADA for a former employee seeking to challenge discrimination in disability benefits, and a split exists among the circuits. See Blakley, Allison C., Is Depression Disabling America's Group Insurance Plans? Mental Health Benefit Parity and the ADA, 27-SUM Brief 40, 41 (1998). In Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v CNA Ins. Cos., 96 F.3d 1039 (7th Cir. 1996), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") brought suit asking the court to decide to what extent, if at all, the ADA requires equality of treatment among disabilities in benefit plans. CNA, 96...

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