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Cruzeta v. Sony Electronics, Inc.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

April 25, 2013

RAFAEL CRUZETA, an individual, Plaintiff,
SONY ELECTRONICS, INC., a Delaware Corporation, and DOES 1 through 15, inclusive, Defendants.


M. JAMES LORENZ, District Judge.

On June 13, 2012, Plaintiff Rafael Cruzeta commenced this action against Defendant Sony Electronics, Inc., and DOES one through fifteen, seeking relief for violations of state law and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. (Compl. §§ 23-28.) Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's ERISA claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the ground that Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and Defendant further requests that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state-law claims. (doc. #3.) Plaintiff opposes.

The Court finds this motion suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See Civ. L.R. 7.1(d.1). (doc. #10.) For the following reasons, the Court will grant Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.


Plaintiff is Defendant's former employee who worked as a Senior Product Representative in San Diego, California. (Compl. §§ 7, 9.) In June 2009, Defendant offered Plaintiff an early retirement benefits package. ( Id. § 12.) Despite being "actively encouraged" to accept this early retirement package, Plaintiff declined the offer because he "enjoyed his work." ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant thereafter began "compiling evidence" and making efforts to "force him out" of the company. ( Id. §§ 13, 16.)

In October 2010, Defendant received a complaint that Plaintiff was being "overly friendly" towards female co-workers. ( Id. § 18) Defendant had previously given Plaintiff a written warning on October 23, 2001, and also a verbal warning on December 6, 2004, for "Sexual Harassment of several female" employees. ( Id. § 25, Ex. A.) Defendant proceeded to investigate the new complaint by interviewing Plaintiff and other employees. ( Id. § 16, Ex. A.) On November 9, 2010, Defendant terminated Plaintiff for violations of its sexual harassment policy. ( Id. §§ 17, 19.)

On January 17, 2011, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant's President contesting the basis for his termination and requesting that he be reinstated or be "given the early retirement package offered [to] me in June of 2009." (Compl. § 23, Ex. B.) Defendant responded by reasserting that Plaintiff was fired for behavioral issues and violations of its written "Freedom from Sexual & Other Forms of Harassment" policy. ( Id. § 24.) Plaintiff contends that although he was always friendly and open with his co-workers, a characteristic inherent to his native culture, he never committed any actions that justified terminating him for sexual harassment ( Id. §§ 14, 25.) Rather, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant "simply trumped up a termination at the earliest practical opportunity" to avoid making payments on early retirement benefits owed to Plaintiff. ( Id. § 26.)

Out of these allegations, Plaintiff asserts the following eight causes of action: (1) wrongful termination, (2) intentional interference with an order being requested to clarify rights to future benefits under a benefit plan covered by ERISA, (3) breach of a retirement plan, (4) breach of fiduciary duty, (5) breach of contract, (6) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (7) promissory estoppel, and (8) negligence. (Compl. §§29-82.) Defendant moves to dismiss any potential ERISA claims under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the basis that they do not state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss at 7-12.) If these claims are dismissed, Defendant also requests that this Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any remaining state-law causes of action. ( Id. 15-16.)


The court must dismiss a cause of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cedars-Sanai Med. Ctr. v. Nat'l League of Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2007). Material allegations, even if doubtful in fact, are assumed to be true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). But, the court need not "necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). In fact, the court does not need to accept any legal conclusions as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). Instead, the allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. 663 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570). "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." Id. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or for insufficient facts under a cognizable theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984).

Generally, courts may not consider material outside the complaint when ruling on a motion to dismiss. Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n. 19 (9th Cir.1990). But documents specifically identified in the complaint whose authenticity is not questioned by parties may also be considered. Fecht v. Price Co., 70 F.3d 1078, 1080 n. 1 (9th Cir.1995) (superceded by statutes on other grounds).


Defendant contends that Plaintiff does not state any plausible claim for relief based on Defendant's alleged violations of ERISA. This Court agrees. Congress enacted ERISA to "protect... the interests of participants in employee benefit plans" by setting out substantive regulatory requirements for employee benefit plans and to "provid[e] for appropriate remedies, sanctions, and ready access to Federal courts." 29 U.S.C. § 1001(b). Therefore, the purpose of ERISA is to ...

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