United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Sean M. Quinn, Esq., Falsani, Balmer, Peterson, Quinn & Beyer, Duluth, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.
Charles F. Knapp, Esq., Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Minneapolis, MN; and David G. Gabor, Esq., The Wagner Law Group, Boston, MA, on behalf Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ANN D. MONTGOMERY, District Judge.
On September 23, 2014, the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Defendant Sappi Fine Paper North America's ("Sappi") Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 12]. Plaintiff Linda Anderson ("Anderson") opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below, Sappi's motion is denied.
Anderson was an employee of Sappi until July 2012, when she was unable to work due to illness. Compl. [Docket No. 1] ¶ 3. Sometime thereafter, Anderson pursued disability benefits under Sappi's retirement plan (the "Plan"). Sappi denied Anderson's claim for disability benefits and the denial was upheld by final administrative review on October 11, 2013. Id. at ¶ 8. Sappi's denial of Anderson's claim was based on its conclusion that Anderson's disability did not satisfy the disability requirement as defined in the Plan. Anderson commenced this action primarily seeking an award of disability benefits under the Plan, averring that Sappi's denial of disability benefits was arbitrary and capricious.
A. Motion To Dismiss Standard
Under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, pleadings "shall contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." A pleading must contain "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 a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id . "But where the wellpleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but not shown'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id . (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).
The Complaint contains misrepresentations and ambiguities that make it unclear whether or not Anderson has satisfied the "plausibility" standard outlined in Twombly and Iqbal. In one paragraph, the Complaint asserts Anderson is unable to work on a "full-time" basis. Compl. ¶ 6. The following paragraph claims Anderson is "not capable of working." Id. at ¶ 7. This ambiguity is vital to determining plausibility because the Plan requires establishing the inability to "perform any work for any kind of compensation of financial value" before receiving disability benefits. Id. at ¶ 5. Sappi argues that being unable to work full-time implies part-time work is possible. This statement, however, read with the averment in the following paragraph creates confusion as to whether or not Anderson is able to "perform any work for any kind of compensation of financial value."
Sappi argues that even with the facial ambiguities included in the Complaint, dismissal is proper because the findings from the Social Security Administration, medical records, and admissions establish Anderson could perform sedentary work or work with an accommodation. These additional documents purporting to demonstrate Anderson's ability to perform some work are not part of the pleadings and will not be considered at this time. See Stahl v. U.S.D.A. 327 F.3d 697 , 701 (8th Cir. 2003) ("[t]he court has complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." (quoting 5A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1366, at 491 (2d ed.1990))).
What is appropriately before the Court at this time is an inartfully drafted Complaint that may or may not plead a plausible cause of action according to the language of the Plan. Procedural rules authorize judicial discretion to grant leave for pleadings to be amended when justice so requires. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Leave to amend is to be freely given. Id . One purpose of Rule 15(a), as described by the Supreme Court, is to afford plaintiffs an opportunity to test their claims on the merits. Foman v. Davis , 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). At oral argument, counsel agreed the Complaint should have been crafted with greater precision. Counsel confessed to using a stock complaint that compounded the deficiencies by including statements that were factually inapplicable to this case. ...