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Ayers v. Osram Sylvania

September 15, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas I. Vanaskie United States District Judge



Plaintiff Brock Ayers brought this action against Defendants Osram Sylvania, Inc. and UnumProvident, asserting an interference/retaliation claim under Section 510 of the Employees Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1140. (Dkt. Entry 23, ¶ 10.)*fn1 Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion to File a Third Amended Complaint (Dkt. Entry 36), and Defendant Osram Sylvania, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. (Dkt. Entry 30.) For the reasons that follow, both motions will be denied.


Plaintiff Brock Ayers ("Ayers") was an employee of Defendant Osram Sylvania, Inc. ("Osram")(Dkt. Entry 23, ¶ 4.) On January 12, 2006, Ayers sustained a reoccurrence of a chronic back problem while on leave from work. (Id. ¶ 16.) Ayers was scheduled to work on Monday, January 16, 2006. Accordingly, Ayers contacted his supervisor, David Park, to inform him he would not be at work on Monday due to his back injury. (Id. ¶ 17.) Mr. Park told Ayers to report to the plant on Monday to file the necessary medical paperwork regarding his disability. (Id. ¶ 18.) On Monday, Ayers' wife picked up the paperwork and returned the completed documents to Osram's Medical Department the following day. (Id., ¶¶ 19 - 20.)

Around this time, Ayers began receiving short-term disability benefits pursuant to Osram's Short-Term Disability Plan, which provides employees income during a non-work related disabling illness or injury. ("Orientation Handbook-Focus on Benefits," Dkt. Entry 9-5, at 50.)*fn2 The Disability Plan provides employees coverage equal to 65 percent of their base pay, up to a maximum of $435.00 per week. An employee is entitled to short-term disability benefits for twenty-six (26) weeks, provided the employee remains disabled during that time. (Id.)

Ayers remained unable to work after his back injury and continued to receive short- term disability benefits from Osram. During this time, Osram required Ayers to attend a monthly re-evaluation with his treating physician, Dr. Sweet, and to submit a medical form to its Medical Department on the 17th of each month. (Dkt. Entry 23, ¶ 21.) Around this time each month, Osram placed Ayers on its work schedule until its medical department received Ayers' completed medical form. (Id., ¶ 22.)

Ayers met with Dr. Sweet on February 17, 2006, and March 17, 2006. (Dkt. Entry 14-2.) Dr. Sweet attested to Ayers' inability to return to work on each occasion, and Ayers returned the completed paperwork to Osram's Medical Department. (Id.; Dkt. Entry 23, ¶ 25.) During the month of April, Osram scheduled Ayers for work at 11:40 p.m. on April 16, 2006, according to its usual practice. (Id. ¶ 23.) Aware of this, Ayers informed Osram's medical department on April 14, 2006, that he had an appointment with Dr. Sweet at 10:00 a.m. on April 17, 2006, for a re-evaluation and would not be able to work as scheduled. (Id., ¶¶ 23 - 24.) Dr. Sweet did not clear Ayers for work, and Ayers' wife returned the completed medical form to Osram's medical department at 7:00 a.m. on April 20, 2006. (Id. ¶ 25.)

It is Osram's policy that "an employee who is absent for three consecutive scheduled work days without calling departmental supervision or the medical department to advise them [of] the reason for the absence, will be considered to have resigned." (Id. ¶ 7.) Osram terminated Ayers' employment on April 20, 2006, asserting that Ayers violated this policy. (Id. ¶ 4.) Ayers claims that Osram incorrectly determined that he violated this policy. (Id. ¶¶ 7- 8.)

II. Procedural History

Ayers filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and Osram removed the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a) on the basis of diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. (Dkt. Entry 1.) Osram filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint on October 5, 2007. (Dkt. Entry 4.) On November 28, 2007, this Court ordered Ayers to file an Amended Complaint. (Dkt. Entry 12.) An Amended Complaint was filed on December 17, 2007 (Dkt. Entry 14), and on January 16, 2008, Defendant filed a Second Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. Entry 17.)

Ayers' Amended Complaint set forth two causes of action under Pennsylvania common law: (1) wrongful discharge; and (2) punitive damages. (Dkt. Entry 14.) This Court granted Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, noting that the sweeping preemption provision of Section 502(a) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a), precluded Ayers' state law wrongful discharge claims, and that a claim for punitive damages does not present a viable underlying cause of action. (Dkt. Entry 22, at 12-13.) This Court granted Ayers the opportunity to file a second amended complaint to assert an ERISA cause of action under Section 510 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1140. (Id., at 14.)

Ayers filed a Second Amended Complaint on October 14, 2008. (Dkt. Entry 23.) In his Second Amended Complaint, Ayers adds UnumProvident, "the administrator and insurer of the benefits in question," as a second defendant. (Id. ¶ 12.) Ayers states that his employer-provided short-term disability benefits are covered under 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1), claiming Defendants' conduct interferes with his rights and violates 29 U.S.C. § 1140 and 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a). (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.) Ayers seeks the following form of relief: "an order requiring Defendants to pay all Short Term Disability Benefits due to Plaintiff under the Plan as a result of his disability from May 8, 2006 to the present and continuing, plus attorney's fees and costs under ERISA and such other relief as . . . just and proper." (Id. at 5.)

Osram filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint on December 3, 2008 (Dkt. Entry 30), claiming that Ayers fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because: (1) Ayers requested relief that is unavailable under Section 510 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1140 (Dkt. Entry 31, at 7); and (2) Ayers has not exhausted his administrative remedies in order to receive relief under Section 502 (a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. § 1132 (a)(1)(B). (Id. at 10-11.) This Court granted Ayers' motion for an extension of time to file a response to Osram's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint until January 30, 2009. (Dkt. Entry 35.) On January 29, 2009, Ayers filed a ...

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