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Edwards v. A.H. Cornell and Son

July 23, 2009

SHIRLEY EDWARDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
A.H. CORNELL AND SON, INC., D/B/A AH CORNELLS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and Plaintiff's Response thereto. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Shirley Edwards is a former employee of Defendant A.H. Cornell and Son, Inc.*fn1 Defendant A.H. Cornell and Son, Inc. ("A.H. Cornell") is a Pennsylvania corporation that performs contracting and construction services. Defendant Melissa J. Closterman ("Closterman") manages or oversees daily operations at A.H. Cornell, including oversight of Plaintiff while she was employed by A.H. Cornell. Plaintiff alleges that Closterman was "directly responsible for terminating Plaintiff." Defendant Scott A. Cornell ("Cornell") is an executive of A.H. Cornell and was responsible for overseeing the terms and conditions of Plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff alleges that Cornell "participated in the termination of Plaintiff's employment."

According to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint,*fn2 in or around February, 2006, Defendants hired Plaintiff to establish a human resources department at A.H. Cornell. Plaintiff asserts that while she was employed by Defendants, she learned that Closterman was "engaging in unlawful acts." Plaintiff further asserts that Closterman requested that Plaintiff engage in these allegedly unlawful acts.

Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that an employee of A.H. Cornell who sustained a work-related injury continued to collect worker's compensation insurance for being out of work after the employee had returned to work. Plaintiff claims this employee used a false social security number and information to obtain worker's compensation in the first place. Plaintiff alleges that Closterman directed Plaintiff to make false statements to Defendants' worker's compensation carrier regarding the injured employee. Plaintiff also alleges that in the last several weeks of her employment, Closterman directed Plaintiff to provide false information to a disability insurance carrier.

Plaintiff further asserts that Defendants had a group health insurance plan, governed by ERISA, that "was being administered illegally within Defendant and on a discriminatory basis." Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Closterman lied to "many employees" about what their contributions would be in order to dissuade employees from opting into the benefits and also did not offer certain employees health benefits at all. Plaintiff avers that Defendants, through Closterman, withheld and concealed required group plan information from employees and "unlawfully enroll[ed] non-citizens in the ERISA-qualifying life, disability and/or group health plan."

Plaintiff alleges that she "objected to participating in a scheme to commit criminal fraud as to Defendants' disability insurance carrier, worker's compensation insurance carrier, and health insurance carrier." She further states that she "was directed to commit and/or to participate" in the fraud in close proximity to her termination, which was on February 11, 2009.

Plaintiff's Complaint asserts two Counts: (1) Violations of ERISA - Section 510, 29 U.S.C. § 1140 (Retaliation) and (2) Common-Law Wrongful Discharge. Plaintiff bases her section 510 claim on the allegation that Defendants terminated her for "object[ing] to and/or complain[ing] to Defendants' management or owners" about Defendants' alleged ERISA violations. She asserts that her actions were protected activity under ERISA and thus her termination violated the retaliation provision in ERISA, section 510. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), in response to a pleading, a Defendant may file a motion asserting that the Plaintiff's complaint "[fails] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, we "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)(citations omitted). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .'" Id. at 232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombley, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)). In other words, the plaintiff must provide "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a particular cause of action. Id. at 234. This "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombley, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65. In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court may consider documents "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint." In re Rockefeller Sec. Lit., 184 F.3d 280, 287 (3d Cir. 1999).

III. DISCUSSION

A. ERISA - Section 510, 29 U.S.C. § 1140

ERISA, section 510, codified at 29 U.S.C. ยง 1140, provides ...


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