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Harris v. Central States Pension Fund

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

August 5, 2019

JIMELLA HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CENTRAL STATES PENSION FUND, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the pro se Plaintiff's, Jimella Harris, Motion Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(2), (b) and (e) [ECF No. 36] and Motion Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(a) and (b)(6) [ECF No. 37]. In these motions, the Plaintiff seeks reconsideration of the Court's April 15, 2019 Opinion and Order [ECF No. 31] granting the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES the Plaintiff's Motions.

         BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a Complaint on September 11, 2018 [ECF No. 1], asserting a breach of fiduciary duty by the Defendant Central States Pension Fund under 29 U.S.C. § 1104(a). Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 11. The following facts, taken from the Plaintiff's Complaint and the exhibits attached to the Complaint, were set forth in the Court's April 15, 2019 Order. The Plaintiff was married to a participant in the Defendant's pension plan from August 25, 1995, to August 27, 2003. Id. ¶ 5. After the Plaintiff became aware that her ex-husband retired from his employment with the Defendant, she contacted the Defendant on August 23, 2004, to state that she was entitled to her ex-husband's pension. Id. ¶ 8, Ex. 8A. The Plaintiff asserted that her divorce decree from the Allen County Superior Court entitled her to her ex-husband's pension. Id. Exs. 3, 8A. The Plaintiff requested a lump sum payment of the money owed and verification of her beneficiary status. Id. Ex. 8A.

         On September 14, 2004, the Defendant informed the Plaintiff by letter that she was not entitled to benefits. Id. ¶ 8, Ex. 9A. In the letter, the Defendant stated that the Plaintiff's divorce decree was not a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) and a QDRO was needed because her ex-husband's pension was an ERISA regulated plan. Id. Ex. 9A. The Defendant further explained that the Plaintiff would not be an alternate payee entitled to pension benefits until the Defendant received a QDRO. Id. The Defendant also set forth in the letter the requirements for a QDRO. Id.

         The Plaintiff alleges that she endured a back-and-forth with the Defendant regarding a QDRO. Id. ¶ 9. The Plaintiff submitted a May 2008 order from the state court that the Defendant recognized as a “domestic relations order”; however, the Plaintiff did not submit the May 2008 order as a QDRO. Id.

         In a June 10, 2008 letter, the Defendant addressed two proposed domestic relations orders that had been provided by the Plaintiff and indicated that either one would be deemed “Qualified” upon receipt of a certified copy. Id. ¶ 18, Ex. 9F at 1. The Defendant also informed the Plaintiff that it would establish an escrow account for up to 18 months to determine whether the parties were able to submit an order that the Defendant considered a QDRO. Id. Ex. 9F at 2. On September 18, 2008, the Defendant informed the Plaintiff's ex-husband by letter that it would release the escrowed amounts because the Order of Judgment required that he pay the Plaintiff directly from the benefit he receives from the Defendant. Id. Ex. 9G. The Defendant received a signed and notarized statement from both the Plaintiff and her ex-husband that requested the release of the escrowed amounts. Id. Ex. 9H.

         The Plaintiff's ex-husband died in November 2008, id. Ex. 15C at 3, and the Plaintiff appealed the denial of benefits in 2009, id. Ex. 9M. On June 17, 2009, the Defendant advised the Plaintiff that she was not eligible to receive any pension benefit and that the proposed QDROs were defective. Id. Ex. 9M. The Defendant determined that the Plaintiff was not eligible for a surviving spouse benefit because she was not married to her ex-husband at the time of his death. Id. Since she had not submitted a QDRO assigning her surviving spouse rights and the Plaintiff's Decree of Dissolution of Marriage did not constitute a QDRO, the Plaintiff was not eligible for a surviving spouse benefit. Id.

         In a December 4, 2017 letter, the Plaintiff requested that the Defendant reopen her appeal. Id. Ex. 14. On January 4, 2018, the Defendant informed the Plaintiff that, while her appeal had been denied on June 9, 2009, it would review new information provided by the Plaintiff. Id. Ex. 15. On February 1, 2018, the Plaintiff submitted an appeal in the administrative appeal process, which the Defendant's Benefit Claims Appeals Committee denied on March 21, 2018. Id. Ex. 15C. The Plaintiff then appealed to the Trustees, and her appeal was denied on May 8, 2018. Id. Exs. 15D, 15E.

         In the Complaint filed with this Court, the Plaintiff alleged that “the Defendant breached its fiduciary duty to the Plaintiff as a beneficiary to the Defendant's Plan with such beneficiary status established by the Plaintiff's and Participant's divorce decree.” Id. The Plaintiff alleged that there was willful concealment of material information on two fronts: (1) the Defendant willfully concealed its possession of the Plaintiff's divorce decree; and (2) the Defendant failed to notify the Plaintiff of the pension plan procedures. Id. ¶¶ 13-14, 23(A)-(B). Finally, the Plaintiff asked the Court to order the Defendant to pay Plaintiff the $4, 000 that had been withheld in an escrow fund and later paid to the Plaintiff's ex-husband. Id. ¶ 20.

         On November 16, 2018, the Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 13] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 2(b)(6), arguing that the Plaintiff's claims are barred by the three-year statute of limitations for fiduciary breaches. The Plaintiff filed a response, the Defendant filed a reply, the Plaintiff filed a sur-response, and the Defendant filed an additional reply.

         On November 26, 2018, the Plaintiff filed a Motion for Sanctions [ECF No. 20]. The same date, the Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Judgment on Partial Findings [ECF No. 21], arguing that the Defendant should pay $4, 000 due to loss of funds as a direct result of the Defendant's errors. The Defendant filed a response to the Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on Partial Findings, and the Plaintiff filed a reply.

         On April 15, 2019, this Court issued an Opinion and Order granting the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Complaint, denying the Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions, and denying the Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on Partial Findings [ECF No. 31]. The Court dismissed the Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), finding that her claims were barred by ERISA's statute of limitations for fiduciary breaches set out in 29 U.S.C. § 1113.

         In its ruling, the Court noted that the Plaintiff alleged that she had been married to her husband from August 25, 1995, to August 27, 2003, and that she alleged entitlement to a portion of her ex-husband's pension based upon a Divorce Decree entered in her divorce case in state court. Apr. 15, 2019 Op. and Order 1. The Court found that, based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Plaintiff had actual notice of the alleged breach of fiduciary duty when she received the September 14, 2004 letter informing her that she was not entitled to benefits due to the lack of a QDRO. Id. 9. As a result, the Court held that her claims are barred by the ...


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