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Stanley Hoffman, Individually, ) and On v. American Society For Tecnnion-Israel

November 16, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Anthony J. Battaglia U.S. District Judge


Defendants' AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR TECHNION-ISRAEL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, INC. also known as AMERICAN TECHNION SOCIETY (hereinafter "ATS") and RONNIE PALLAY filed a motion to dismiss, [Doc. No. 13], seeking dismissal of: (1) Plaintiff's third, forth, fifth and sixth causes of action, and (2) individually named Defendant RONNIE PALLAY as an improper defendant where Plaintiff seeks benefits under an ERISA plan. Within the motion to dismiss, the Defendants' also move to strike Plaintiff's claim for economic or punitive damages and Plaintiff's demand for jury trial. Based upon the parties moving papers and for the reasons stated below, the Defendants' motion to dismiss and motion to strike are hereby GRANTED.

The Plaintiffs also filed a motion to substitute attorney, [Doc. Nos. 24 and 25], which are hereby GRANTED for good cause shown.


Plaintiff commenced this action individually and on behalf of his deceased wife, Ms. Hoffman, seeking to recover life insurance benefits from any of the defendants and severance pay from ATS under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1101. [Doc. No. 1.] On March 22, 2010, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint in part, as set forth above; on April 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss, [Doc. No. 17], and on April 26, 2010, Defendants filed a reply.

Legal Standard

A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) (2009). A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 731 (9th Cir.2001). The court must accept all factual allegations pled in the complaint as true, and must construe them and draw all reasonable inferences from them in favor of the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337--38 (9th Cir.1996). To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, rather, it must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). A claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ------ U.S. --------, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

However, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). A court need not accept "legal conclusions" as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ------ U.S. --------, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). In spite of the deference the court is bound to pay to the plaintiff's allegations, it is not proper for the court to assume that "the [plaintiff] can prove facts that [he or she] has not alleged or that defendants have violated the ... laws in ways that have not been alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526, 103 S.Ct. 897, 74 L.Ed.2d 723 (1983).


1. Plaintiff's Third through Sixth Causes of Action

Plaintiff's third cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty against defendants ATS and PALLAY relies on Defendants' duty to act as fiduciaries with respect to the ERISA plan, but fails to point to any specific ERISA section permitting Plaintiff to obtain relief. Even Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss fails to cure this defect. [Doc. No. 17.] Nevertheless, Plaintiff's claim for damages in the form of life insurance and severance payments pursuant to section 502(a)(1)(b) precludes Plaintiff from utilizing either ERISA section 502(a)(2) or 502(a)(3) to recast his arguments in the form of a breach of fiduciary duty even in the alternative.

First, Defendants point out that section 502(a)(2) allows a beneficiary of an ERISA plan to bring an action for damages against the plan's fiduciaries only if the damages "inure to the benefit of the plan and not to a single person's benefit." See Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co. V. Russell, 473 U.S. 134 (1985). [Doc. No. 13-1.] Although the specific language in Russell applies to a defined contribution plan, and here there is no evidence that Plaintiff participated in a defined contribution plan, Plaintiffs' still cannot bypass the limitation against pursuing individual claims under section 502 (a)(2). See Coriale v. Xerox Corp., 775 F. Supp. 2d 583 (W.D.N.Y. 2011). What Plaintiff seeks in essence is redress of Plaintiff's individual grievance against the plan's administrators in the form of restoring Plaintiff's plan benefits.

Second, Plaintiff cannot rely on section 502(a)(3) to bring a breach of fiduciary duty claim against Defendants, because what Plaintiffs ultimately seeks in the form of declaration, is in reality monetary compensation for Plaintiff's lost benefits. See Phelan v. Wyoming Associated Builders, 574 F.3d 1250, 1254 (10th Cir. 2009) (warning against disguising legal remedies in equitable clothing.). In addition, Plaintiff is not permitted to plead equitable remedies even ...

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