United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION & ORDER
F. COX UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
an ERISA benefits case. Plaintiff John Butler
(“Plaintiff” or “Butler”) alleges, in
Count I, that Defendant FCA US, LLC (“Defendant” or
“FCA”) wrongfully denied his claim for benefits
after he was seriously injured in an automobile accident. He
also claims that FCA should be equitably estopped from
denying his claim for benefits (in Count III) and that FCA
failed to provide him with requested plan documents, in
violation of the statute (in Count IV). The matter is
currently before the Court on: 1) FCA's Motion for
Summary, that seeks summary judgment in its favor as to all
three remaining counts; and 2) Plaintiff's Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment, which seeks summary judgment in his
favor as to Counts I and IV (but not Count III). The parties
have fully briefed the issues. The Court finds that oral
argument would not aid the decisional process. See
Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), U.S. District Court, Eastern District
of Michigan. The Court therefore orders that the motions will
be decided upon the briefs. For the reasons that follow, the
Court shall DENY Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment and GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary
December 16, 2014, Butler filed this action against FCA,
asserting the following claims: 1) “Claim for Benefits
Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)” (Count I);
2) “Claim for Failure to Provide Notice of Deletion of
Benefits to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)” (Count II);
3) “Claim for Equitable Estoppel 29 U.S.C. §
1132(a)(3)(B)” (Count III); and 4) “Claim for
Failure to Provide Documents Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §
1024(b)(4)” (Count IV). (D.E. No. 1, Pl.'s original
February 17, 2015, FCA filed a Motion to Dismiss (D.E. No.
4). In its Motion to Dismiss, FCA argued “that all of
Plaintiff's claims in this case are barred by the
doctrine of res judicata, which is also known as claim
preclusion.” (Id. at 5). In the alternative,
FCA argued that Counts II and IV should be dismissed because
they each fail to state a claim upon which relief may be
Court granted FCA's Motion to Dismiss in part and denied
it in part. The Court granted the motion to the extent that
it dismissed Count II (“Claim for Failure to Provide
Notice of Deletion of Benefits to 29 U.S.C. §
1132(a)(1)(B)”). (Id. at 14-15 & 17).
Court denied the motion with respect to FCA's challenge
to Count IV, allowing that count to proceed. (Id. at
the Court denied without prejudice “Defendant's
motion to dismiss the entire Complaint based on the
affirmative defense of res judicata.” (Id.).
In the body of the Opinion & Order, the Court stated that
“[i]f Defendant believes that it can better support its
res judicata defense at the summary judgment stage, Defendant
may raise it again at that time.” (Id. at 12).
filed its Answer and Affirmative Defenses on August 26, 2015.
(D.E. No. 19). FCA filed its First Amended Answer and
Affirmative Defenses on September 16, 2015. (D.E. No. 22).
November 2, 2015, this Court issued the Scheduling Order
(D.E. No. 23) that includes a March 1, 2016 deadline for
discovery, a motion-filing deadline of April 1, 2016, a Final
Pretrial Conference of August 29, 2016, and set the trial for
about November 13, 2015, Plaintiff received MetLife's
response to a subpoena for records and that response
consisted of MetLife's claim file regarding
Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits resulting from
his accident and the 2007 Chrysler LLC Summary Plan
December 7, 2015, the parties stipulated to Plaintiff
withdrawing his jury demand.
March 9, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File
First Amended Complaint (D.E. No. 38), which this Court
denied in a May 17, 2016 Opinion & Order. (D.E. No. 44).
at this stage of the litigation, the following three counts
remain pending in this action: Count I: “Claim for
Benefits Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), ”
Count III: “Claim for Equitable Estoppel 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(a)(3)(B), ” and Count IV: “Claim for
Failure to Provide Documents Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §
1024(b)(4).” Following the close of discovery,
Plaintiff and FCA each filed a dispositive motion. FCA filed
a motion “To Dismiss Count I and for Summary Judgment
on Counts I, III and IV.” (D.E. No. 46). Plaintiff
filed a “Motion for Summary Judgment of Count I and
Count IV” of his Complaint. (D.E. No. 54).
Court's practice guidelines, which are expressly included
in the Scheduling Order issued in this case, provide,
consistent with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c) and (e), that:
a. The moving party's papers shall include a separate
document entitled Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute.
The statement shall list in separately numbered paragraphs
concise statements of each undisputed material fact,
supported by appropriate citations to the record. . .
b. In response, the opposing party shall file a separate
document entitled Counter-Statement of Disputed Facts. The
counter-statement shall list in separately numbered
paragraphs following the order or the movant's statement,
whether each of the facts asserted by the moving party is
admitted or denied and shall also be supported by appropriate
citations to the record. The Counter-Statement shall also
include, in a separate section, a list of each issue of
material fact as to which it is contended there is a genuine
issue for trial.
c. All material facts as set forth in the Statement of
Material Facts Not in Dispute shall be deemed admitted unless
controverted in the Counter-Statement of Disputed Facts.
(Docket Entry No. 30 at 2-3).
compliance with this Court's guidelines, in support of
its Motion, Defendant FCA filed a “Statement of
Material Facts Not In Dispute” (D.E. No. 49)
(“Defs.' Stmt. A). In response to that submission,
Plaintiff filed a “Counter-Statement of Disputed
Facts” (D.E. No. 54 at Pg ID 2682-2688) (Pl.'s
Stmt. A”). In support of his Motion, Plaintiff filed a
“Statement of Material Facts Not In Dispute”
(D.E. No. 49) (“Pl.'s Stmt. B). In response to that
submission, FCA filed a “Counter-Statement of Disputed
Facts” (D.E. No. 53) (Def.'s Stmt. B”).
worked for Chrysler LLC and it predecessor entities from 1967
until his retirement effective May 31, 2011.
2002, Plaintiff was a participant in Chrysler LLC's
Voluntary Group Accident Insurance (“VGAI”)
Program. (Pl.'s & Def.'s Stmt. B at ¶ 2).
Plaintiff's copy of the 2002 Summary Plan Description
(“SPD”) for the VGAI is attached to
Plaintiff's Complaint. (D.E. No. 1-3 at Pg ID 17). On the
front page of that SPD, either Plaintiff or his wife wrote
“Old Book - Life & Disability.”
(Id.; Pl.'s Dep. at 30-32). It is undisputed
that the 2002 SPD included a “Permanent Total
Disability” (“PTD”) Benefit . (See
D.E. No. 1-3 at Pg ID 23 & 63). That benefit was
described as follows in the 2002 SPD:
Total Disability Benefit (Employee Only)
permanent total disability benefit is payable provided:
• You sustain a covered accidental injury while insured.
• You are under age 70 when the injury occurs.
• You become permanently and totally disabled as a
result of that injury within 180 days of the date of the
accident so as to be unable to perform every duty of your
occupation during the first year of disability, and
thereafter be unable to engage in any occupation for the
remainder of your life for which you are reasonably qualified
by education, training, or experience.
• The disability has existed continuously for more than
one year from the date you became permanently and totally
The full benefit amount for which you are insured on the date
of your injury is payable to you less any amount paid or
payable as a Voluntary Group Accident benefit because of a
loss sustained as a result of your accident.
(Id. at Pg ID 63).
January of 2004, Plaintiff received a “Summary of
Material Modifications (SMM)” for the VGAI Program.
(Ex. B to Pl.'s Motion). It is undisputed that in the
2004 SMM, the VGAI Program still included a PTD Benefit.
(Pl.'s & Def.'s Stmt. B at ¶ 5).
September of 2007, Plaintiff received a 2007 SPD. (Pl.'s
& Def.'s Stmt. B at ¶ 6). Plaintiff's copy
of the 2007 SPD he received is attached as Exhibit D to his
motion. On the cover page of that document, there is
handwriting that says “New Book - No Mention of
Permanent Total Disability Benefit. Should Be in
asserts in its Statement that the 2007 SPD did not include a
PTD Benefit. Plaintiff denies that, but does not direct the
Court to anywhere in that SPD where a PTD Benefit is listed.
(Def.'s & Pl.'s Stmt. A at ¶ 9; D.E. No.
Court has reviewed the 2007 SPD. Unlike the 2002 SPD, the
2007 SPD does not contain a PTD Benefit, in either the table
of contents or the body of the SPD where the benefits are
spelled out. The 2007 SPD lists the various benefits that are
included in the VGAI Program (a Paralysis Benefit, Comotose
Benefit, Education Benefit, Child Care Benefit, Repatriation
of Remains Benefit, Common Disaster Benefit, Seat Belt and
Air Bag Benefit, Traumatic Brain Injury Benefit, Exposure and
Disappearance Benefit, etc.) But there is no PTD Benefit
only place in the 2007 SPD that Plaintiff points to is a
reference in the following paragraph:
Special Tax Considerations
Certain benefits, such as the Total Permanent Disability
Benefit and the Special Education Benefit, may be taxable as
ordinary income in the year in which you or your beneficiary
receives the benefit. You or your beneficiary should consult
with your tax advisor regarding the tax consequences of any
(D.E. No. 45-5 at Pg ID 1857).
2007 SPD identified Chrysler as both the Plan Sponsor and the
Plan Administrator and listed its address its address as 1000
Chrysler Drive Auburn Hills, MI 48326-2766. (D.E. No. 1-5 at
Pg ID 234; Def.'s and Pl.'s Stmt. A at ¶ 12).
parties agree that the 2007 SPD specifically advised
participants to file their claim and any appeal with the
insurance carrier, which was MetLife at the time of
Plaintiff's accident.(Compl. at Pg ID 3, “MetLife was
the insurer, ” D.E. No. 46 at Pg ID 2230; D.E. No. 54
at Pg ID 2706; D.E. No. 1-5 at Pg ID 223-24).
claims procedure is described in the 2007 SPD and states that
determinations will be made by the insurance carrier.
(Def.'s & Pl.'s Stmt. A at ¶ 15; D.E. No.
1-5 at Pg ID 224). The 2007 SPD advises participants of their
rights under ERISA and advises that copies of plan documents
can be obtained from the plan administrator, upon written
request. (Def.'s & Pl.'s Stmt. A at ¶ 16;
D.E. No. 1-5 at Pg ID 238).
to Defendant's Motion as Exhibit F is the actual MetLife
Certificate Of Insurance that was issued on March 1, 2008 for
the program. It lists the various benefits that were included
under the policy. It does not include a PTD Benefit.
(Id.; Def.'s & Pl.'s Stmt. A at ¶
11; White Dep. at 42; White Affidavit). The MetLife
Certificate describes how to file a claim for benefits and
defines “We, Us, and Our to mean MetLife.”
(Id. at ¶¶ 17 & 18).
Has An Accident On July 8, 2008
8, 2008, Plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident and
suffered a closed head injury. (Def.'s & Pl.'s
Stmt. A at ¶ 35).
undisputed that the Summary Plan Description
(“SPD”) issued September 2007, attached to
Plaintiff's Complaint as Exhibit D, is applicable to
Plaintiff based on his July 8, 2008 automobile accident.
(Def.'s & Pl.'s Stmt. A at ¶ 8; D.E. No.
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