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Krueger v. Surewest Comm., Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 20, 2014

PAUL KRUEGER, Plaintiff,
v.
SUREWEST COMM., INC., et al., Defendants.

ORDER

ALLISON CLAIRE, Magistrate Judge.

On March 19, 2014, the court held a hearing on plaintiff's February 7, 2014 motion to compel. Sheri Leonard appeared for plaintiff. William J. Carroll appeared for defendants. On review of the parties' joint statement regarding discovery dispute and the attached exhibits, THE COURT FINDS AS FOLLOWS:

RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was employed for seventeen years with defendant Surewest Communications, Inc. ("Surewest"). His last position with that organization was Executive Director of Business Sales. First Am. Compl. ("FAC") ¶ 5.

On February 18, 2011, plaintiff and Surewest entered into an agreement entitled Surewest Communications Change in Control Severance Plan ("the Plan"), which provided severance benefits to a select group of management or highly compensated employees, which included plaintiff. Joint Statement re Discovery Dispute ("JSD"), Exs. R-S (ECF No. 34-18 to 34-19). Under the Plan, plaintiff was set to receive various and additional payments and benefits if he experienced a "Qualifying Termination, " defined as "... a termination of your employment... by you for Good Reason and where you Termination Date occurred during the Protected Period or within 150 days after the end of the Protected Period." JSD, Ex. S (ECF No. 34-19). The "Protected Period" was defined as within one year following a Change in Control. Id.

The Plan defined "Good Reason" as "... the occurrence of any one or more of the following without your express consent: (i) material reduction of your authority, duties, or responsibilities as they existed immediately prior to the Change in Control...." JSD, Ex. S (ECF No. 34-19). The Plan also stated that the participant had to give written notice that a Good Reason event had occurred within ninety days of the initial occurrence of the alleged Good Reason event. Id . The employer then had thirty days to cure or remedy the issues in the notice. Id . Finally, the Plan stated that if the Good Reason was not timely cured or remedied, then the participant had to resign his employment within sixty days of the date that the notice was provided in order to obtain the severance. Id.

On July 2, 2012, defendant Consolidated Communications Services Company acquired Surewest pursuant to a merger transaction. FAC ¶ 8. This merger qualified as a Change in Control. Id . Thereafter, plaintiff claims that he learned that his job duties and responsibilities would be significantly altered following the merger such that he had a "Good Reason" to resign and receive severance payment and benefits via the Plan. Id . ¶ 10.

On August 20, 2012, and pursuant to the Plan, plaintiff sent a notice that a Good Reason had occurred. FAC ¶ 11.

On September 18, 2012, defendants responded to plaintiff's notice, asserting that plaintiff's job duties were not significantly altered and/or that it cured the Good Reason pursuant to the Plan. See JSD, Ex. T (ECF No. 34-20).

On September 20, 2012, plaintiff submitted his resignation. JSD, Ex. P (ECF No. 34-16).

On January 28, 2012, Surewest's Chief Financial Officer, Steven Childers, denied plaintiff's claim for severance payments and benefits on behalf of the Plan. FAC ¶ 13; see also JSD, Ex. N (ECF No. 34-14). Plaintiff appealed this determination. On May 16, 2013, the Review Panel, which was comprised of Childers, Ryan Whitlock, and David Herrick, sent plaintiff a final rejection of benefits. JSD, Ex. O (ECF No. 34-15).

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This action was initiated on October 10, 2013 and is proceeding on a first amended complaint filed November 25, 2013 asserting violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132. ECF No. 15.

On December 9, 2013, the Honorable John A. Mendez signed the parties' Stipulated Specialized Case Management Order - ERISA Action. ECF No. 19. Per the terms of this stipulation, defendants shall produce the governing plan document, the summary plan description, any other relevant plan procedures not contained in the aforementioned documents, and the administrative record in this matter. Other than these documents, "[n]o ...


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