United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cause comes before the Court on defendants' motion to
dismiss [DE 23] and plaintiffs motion to allow filing out of
time [DE 26]. The motions have been fully briefed and are
ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, plaintiffs
motion to allow filing out of time [DE 26] is GRANTED and
defendants' motion to dismiss [DE 23] is GRANTED.
filed his complaint in September 2017 in Johnston County
Superior Court, alleging that defendants failed to pay
plaintiff severance pay to which he was entitled. [DE 1-3].
In particular, plaintiff alleges that defendants employed him
until September 2015 and, under a severance plan he signed
that month, he was entitled to at least seven weeks of
severance pay that he never received. [DE 1-3; 10-2].
Defendants argue that plaintiff was only employed until May
2015 and that he received severance in the weeks that
followed. [DE 13].
November 1, 2018, defendants removed this action from
Johnston County Superior Court to this Court on the basis of
its federal-question jurisdiction. [DE 1]; 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331, 1441(a). The Court denied plaintiffs
motion to remand the action to state court. [DE 20]. In March
2019, defendants moved to dismiss the action under Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(c). [DE 23].
Plaintiff responded in opposition, simultaneously requesting
that the response be treated as timely. [DE 25, 26].
outset, for good cause shown, plaintiffs motion to allow
filing out of time is granted, and plaintiffs response in
opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss is treated as
defendants have already answered plaintiffs complaint, [DE
1-5], their motion to dismiss is more properly considered a
motion for judgment on the pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c);
Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th
Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings
raising the defense of failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted is assessed under the Rule 12(b)(6)
standard. Edwards, 178 F.3d at 243. When considering
a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "the court
should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should
view the complaint in a light most favorable to the
plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7
F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). A complaint must state a
claim for relief that is facially plausible. Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
Facial plausibility means that the court can "draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged," as merely reciting the elements of
a cause of action with the support of conclusory statements
does not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009). The court need not accept the plaintiffs legal
conclusions drawn from the facts, nor need it accept
unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or
arguments. Philips v. Pitt County Mem. Hosp., 572
F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).
motion to dismiss must be granted. The severance plan that
plaintiff signed in September 2015 is a benefits plan covered
by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29
U.S.C. § 1001, e/ seq. The plan includes a
provision that governs the handling of benefits claims.
See [DE 24-1, p. 17-18]. The provision requires a
claimant, or his or her representative, to make a written
claim for benefits to the Plan Administrator, and further
specifies that a claimant "must utilize and exhaust the
Plan's review procedures before . . . bring[ing] any
civil action." Id. This is not an unorthodox
provision. "ERISA and its regulations require benefit
plans to provide certain pre-suit procedures for reviewing
claims after participants submit proof of loss (internal
review)." Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Ace.
Ins. Co., 571 U.S. 99, 105 (2013) (citations omitted);
see also Makar v. Health Care Corp. of Mid-Atl.
(CareFirst), 872 F.2d 80, 82 (4th Cir. 1989) ("[A]n
ERISA claimant generally is required to exhaust the remedies
provided by the employee benefit plan in which he
participates as a prerequisite to an ERISA action for denial
of benefits under 29 U.S.C. § 1132."). "An
ERISA welfare plan participant must both pursue and
exhaust plan remedies before gaining access to the federal
courts." Gayle v. United Parcel Serv., Inc.,
401 F.3d 222, 226 (4th Cir. 2005) (emphasis added). The
failure to exhaust an ERISA-backed plan's administrative
remedies is fatal to a civil claim in federal court.
even viewing plaintiffs complaint in the light most favorable
to him, the complaint does not allege that plaintiff
submitted a written claim for benefits to the Plan
Administrator or that he otherwise exhausted the severance
plan's review procedures. The complaint does not allege
that the Plan Administrator reviewed plaintiffs claim and
determined whether or not it had merit. Indeed, the complaint
could not have alleged such facts, given that plaintiff later
conceded in his deposition that he had not submitted a
written claim for benefits to the Plan Administrator. [DE
24-1, p. 10-11]. Plaintiff cbntends that he sent a letter to
the human resources department concerning his severance pay,
and received a response from defendants' corporate
counsel. The benefits plan specifically provides that a claim
must be presented to a particular entity at a particular
address, in writing, but plaintiff did not send his letter to
that address. The Court need not decide whether or not
plaintiffs conduct nonetheless constitutes exhaustion under
the benefits plan, however, because plaintiff does not argue
that the complaint alleges exhaustion. Even viewing
the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the
complaint does not allege that plaintiff exhausted his
administrative remedies. Because exhaustion is a prerequisite
to stating an ERISA claim, plaintiff has not sufficiently
stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, and he
cannot proceed on an ERISA claim in this Court.
because plaintiffs complaint does not allege exhaustion of
administrative remedies, plaintiff has failed to state an
actionable claim for relief. Defendants' motion to
dismiss must be granted and the action must be dismissed.
above reasons, plaintiffs motion to allow filing out of time
[DE 26] is GRANTED and defendants' motion to dismiss [DE
23] is GRANTED. Accordingly, the action is ...