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Collette Robello v. Fedex Express

October 31, 2011

COLLETTE ROBELLO,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDEX EXPRESS, JOHN DOES 1-5; JANE DOES 1-5; DOE CORPORATIONS 1-5; DOE PARTNERSHIPS 1-5; DOE NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS 1-5; DOE GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES 1-5, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alan C. Kay Sr. United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 11, 2010, Collette Robello ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit of the State of Hawaii against Federal Express Corporation, doing business as FedEx Express ("Federal Express" or "Defendant"), alleging that Defendant breached a contract when it failed to award Plaintiff benefits from Defendant's Voluntary Severance Incentives ("VSI") plan. Doc. No. 1-1. The Complaint seeks enforcement of the VSI plan, special damages, interest, and attorney's fees and costs. Compl. Prayer for Relief.

Defendant removed the case to this Court on October 4, 2010, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441, on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, asserting that Plaintiff's claim is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.*fn1 Doc. No. 1.

On January 3, 2011, Defendant filed the administrative record ("A.R."), to which Plaintiff did not object. Doc. No. 15. Defendant attached the declaration of Robin L. Marsh, a Senior Paralegal for Defendant, which authenticated the record as containing true and correct copies of the relevant documents.*fn2 Id.

On April 21, 2011, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment ("Def.'s Motion"). Doc. No. 18. Defendant's Motion was accompanied by a supporting memorandum ("Def.'s Mot. Mem.") and a concise statement of facts ("Def.'s CSF"). Doc. Nos. 18-1, 19. On June 3, 2011, Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendant's Motion ("Pl.'s Opposition").*fn3 Doc. No. 29. On June 28, 2011,Defendant filed a reply ("Def.'s Reply"). Doc. No. 34.

On May 3, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Motion"). Doc. No. 25. Plaintiff's Motion was accompanied by a supporting memorandum ("Pl.'s Mot. Mem.") and a Concise Statement of Facts ("Pl.'s CSF"). Doc. Nos. 25-1, 26. On June 7, 2011, Defendant filed an opposition to Plaintiff's Motion ("Def.'s Opposition") and an opposition to Plaintiff's CSF. Doc. Nos. 29-30.

The Court held a hearing on the motions on October 11, 2011. At the hearing, Robello argued for the first time that Defendant did not properly amend the VSI plan with regard to participation limits and that it did not comply with the "Claims Procedure" set forth in the VSI plan. The court allowed supplemental briefing on these arguments. Defendant submitted a supplemental brief ("Def.'s Supp. Br.") on October 21, 2011, and Plaintiff submitted a reply brief ("Pl.'s Supp. Reply") on October 24, 2011.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The parties do not dispute the facts that are relevant to the resolution of the present motions except whether Defendant was required to amend the VSI plan to impose limitations. Throughout the time period at issue, Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a manager. Doc. No. 15-5, at A.R. 58; Pl.'s CSF ¶ 2; Def.'s CSF ¶ 5. On June 2, 2003, Defendant sent an e-mail to its U.S. managers that explained an incentive program that Defendant intended to use as part of a broad-based reorganization. Doc. No. 15-1, at A.R. 1-4. The program included a Voluntary Early Retirement Incentives ("VERI") plan and a Voluntary Severance Incentives plan. Doc. No. 15-1, at A.R. 2. Defendant stated that employees could request VSI plan information packets between August 1 and October 6, 2003, and that eligible employees would have from August 1 to November 24, 2003, to notify Defendant of acceptance of the VSI plan. Doc. No. 15-1, at A.R. 2-3. The VSI plan stated that Defendant "reserves the right . . . to amend, modify, change or terminate the Plan at any time." Doc. No. 15-2, at A.R. 11. Plaintiff requested a VSI plan information package on August 5, 2003, and received such package on August 13, 2003. Doc. No. 15-7, at A.R. 61; Pl.'s CSF ¶ 3-4; Def.'s CSF ¶ 6-7.

Defendant sent a series of e-mails to its U.S. managers regarding the VSI plan, and asked the managers to relay the information to salaried employees. Doc. No. 15-4. On September 16, 2003, Defendant sent an e-mail explaining that it appeared the combined acceptance rates for the VERI and VSI plans might exceed the position reduction goals for its reorganization and thus it might have to limit participation in the VSI plan program. Defendant stated that signed VSI agreements must be returned before midnight on September 24 to avoid possible VSI plan participation limits. Id. at A.R. 50. Defendant sent an e-mail on September 18, 2003, asking employees to view a special "FXTV" broadcast airing that day, which would provide, inter alia, information about "recent changes to the Voluntary Severance Incentive (VSI) program." Id. at A.R. 53. On September 22, 2003, Defendant informed its U.S. managers, via e-mail, that updates had been posted to the "Voluntary Incentives Intranet site" regarding, as relevant here, "[p]ossible participation limits for VSI." Id. at A.R. 54. Defendant stated in an e-mail sent October 2, 2003, that the number of employees accepting the voluntary incentives had exceeded the number of positions that Defendant had planned to eliminate. Id. at A.R. 55. Thus, although it would continue to accept requests for the VSI plan until November 24, Defendant stated it "will very likely invoke participation limits on requests received after the previously communicated deadlines (September 24 for most employees)." Id. at A.R. 56.

Plaintiff executed her VSI plan agreement on October 8, 2003, and returned it to Defendant on October 10, 2003. Doc. No. 15-7, at A.R. 61; Pl.'s CSF ¶¶ 6-7. After the initial denial of Plaintiff's request for the VSI plan, Plaintiff appealed. Doc. No. 15-7, at A.R. 61. In a letter dated March 10, 2004, the Plan Administrator (Federal Express) denied Plaintiff's appeal, explaining that "[b]ecause more employees accepted the VSI incentive than were required to implement the realignment of the Express organization, it was necessary to limit participation." Id. The Plan Administrator determined that because Plaintiff did not submit her agreement by September 24, 2003, and she was not in any group that was exempt from the program participation limits, the decision to deny her request for the VSI plan was correct. Id. Plaintiff challenges this decision.

LEGAL STANDARD

A. Preemption

The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff's claim relates to an employee benefit plan within the meaning of ERISA. See Def.'s Mot. Mem. 3; Pl.'s Mot. Mem. 3. In the absence of certain exceptions not applicable here, ERISA preempts "any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan." 29 U.S.C. ยง 1144(a); see Wise v. Verizon Commc'ns, Inc., 600 F.3d 1180, 1190-91 (9th Cir. 2010). This Court therefore will construe Plaintiff's breach of contract claim as a claim brought under ERISA's civil-enforcement provision, which allows a claimant to bring a civil action "to recover benefits due to [her] under the terms of ...


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