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Josephine Swartz v. Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association - College

March 30, 2012

JOSEPHINE SWARTZ, PLAINTIFF
v.
TEACHERS INSURANCE AND ANNUITY ASSOCIATION - COLLEGE RETIREMENT EQUITIES FUND, DOING BUSINESS AS TIAA-CREF, DEFENDANT
JOSEPHINE A. SWARTZ, PLAINTIFF
v.
LEHIGH UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Knoll Gardner United States District Judge

OPINION

The matter before the court is the Motion to Dismiss filed by defendant Lehigh University on May 26, 2011. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. *fn1 Hence this Opinion.

For the reasons expressed below, I grant Lehigh University's motion and dismiss plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Specifically, I conclude that Count I of plaintiff's Amended Complaint, which asserts a non-fiduciary claim against Lehigh University under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), is time barred by the four-year limitations period applicable to such claims.

Accordingly, I dismiss Count I of the Amended Complaint with prejudice. However, I dismiss the Amended Complaint without prejudice for plaintiff to file a Second Amended Complaint which sufficiently states the factual and legal grounds establishing a plausible fiduciary claim pursuant to ERISA against Lehigh University.

JURISDICTION

The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e). *fn2

VENUE Venue is proper in this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(1), and (c), and 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2). *fn3

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Josephine A. Swartz, a former administrator employed by defendant Lehigh University, initiated this litigation concerning her enrollment in an annuity program, which was administered by Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-- College Retirement Equity Fund ("TIAA-CREF"). She filed separate actions against defendants Lehigh University and TIAA-CREF in the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, Pennsylvania. *fn4

On February 14, 2011, Lehigh removed the action against it to this federal court. On February 17, 2011, TIAA-CREF removed the action against it to this court.

Ms. Swartz filed her Amended Complaint against Lehigh on March 24, 2011. She filed her Amended Complaint against TIAACREF on April 13, 2011.

On April 26, 2012, I approved a Stipulation submitted by the parties and consolidated the above-captioned matters for all purposes including trial.

As noted above, on May 26, 2011, Lehigh filed its Motion to Dismiss, together with a Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss. On August 31, 2011, Ms. Swartz filed her Answer to Motion to Dismiss, together with Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendant Lehigh University's Motion to Dismiss. On September 21, 2011, Lehigh filed its Reply Memorandum to Plaintiff's Opposition to Motion to Dismiss.

CLAIMS AGAINST LEHIGH UNIVERSITY

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contains a single count, Count I, which alleges that Lehigh improperly denied Ms. Swartz the benefits of her TIAA-CREF plan by "arbitrarily, capriciously, and unilaterally terminating the TIAA-CREF plan and repurchasing the vested and non-vested portions". *fn5

Although Count I is alleges a "[v]violation of ERISA Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(A)(1)(B)", plaintiff also asserts that Lehigh violated "ERISA, its supporting regulations, Federal common law of ERISA and Pennsylvania common law regulating employee benefit plans." *fn6 Based on the clarification provided in her Brief in Opposition, *fn7 it is clear that Count I of the Amended Complaint asserts an ERISA cause of action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(A)(1)(B). *fn8

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A claim may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion requires the court to examine the sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102,

Generally, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record, including other judicial proceedings. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2008).

Except as provided in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9, a complaint is sufficient if it complies with Rule 8(a)(2), which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."

Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) "[does] not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim [for] relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d at 949. *fn9

This showing of facial plausibility then "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged," and that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at , 129 S.Ct. at 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d at 884).

As the Supreme Court explained in Iqbal, "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that the defendant acted unlawfully." Iqbal, ...


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