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Schuett v. Fedex Corporation Retirement Appeals Committee

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 22, 2015

STACEY SCHUETT, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDEX CORPORATION RETIREMENT APPEALS COMMITTEE, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DENYING MOTION TO TRANSFER AND VACATING HEARING

PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON, District Judge.

Before the court is defendants' motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer the above-entitled action to the Western District of Tennessee for the convenience of parties and witnesses. Having read the parties' papers and carefully considered their arguments and the relevant legal authority, the court hereby DENIES the motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Stacey Schuett, who resides in Sebastopol, California, was married to Lesly Taboada-Hall ("Taboada-Hall"), on June 19, 2013, in Sonoma County, California. Cplt ¶¶ 1, 22, 36. Prior to their marriage, they had lived together for many years and had two children. Cplt ¶¶ 22, 24. They entered into a California Registered Domestic Partnership in 2003. Cplt ¶ 25.

Taboada-Hall worked for defendant FedEx Corporation ("FedEx") for 26 years and was a fully-vested participant in defendant FedEx Corporation Employees Pension Plan ("the Plan"). Cplt ¶¶ 1, 26. Taboada-Hall was diagnosed with cancer in February 2010. Cplt ¶ 27. By November 2012, she went on a medical leave of absence. Cplt ¶ 28.

Plaintiff asserts that in February 2013, she and Taboada-Hall communicated with Harry Saurer, a FedEx Human Resources ("HR") representative in Sacramento, California, about Taboada-Hall's pension and other employment benefits. Cplt ¶ 29. Mr. Saurer allegedly advised Taboada-Hall not to take early retirement, and recommended that she list plaintiff as sole beneficiary for the life insurance and 401(k) plan; however, he allegedly said he didn't know whether the defined benefit (pension) could pass to a "partner" if she died, and that she should ask "someone else." Cplt ¶ 29.

Plaintiff claims that FedEx breached its fiduciary duty to provide complete and accurate information through the statements of its representatives. Cplt ¶¶ 61-65. In particular, she asserts that FedEx failed to inform Taboada-Hall and plaintiff that plaintiff would not be entitled to a survivor benefit if Taboada-Hall died before retirement, and misled Taboada-Hall by discouraging her from retirement, when plaintiff would have been entitled to a benefit - albeit a reduced nonspousal benefit - if Taboada-Hall had retired before she died. Cplt ¶¶ 62-63.

On June 3, 2013, Taboada-Hall's doctor advised her that her cancer was terminal. Cplt ¶ 30. Plaintiff claims that in further reviewing what benefits would be available to plaintiff after Taboada-Hall's death, she and Taboada-Hall discovered that the Plan incorporated the definition of "spouse" from § 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"). Cplt ¶¶ 32, 33. Between June 3 and June 13, 2013, they allegedly had phone conversations with FedEx HR personnel, and on June 13, 2013, were finally told that plaintiff would not receive the spousal survivor benefit under the Plan, because "spouse" was limited to opposite-sex partners. Cplt ¶ 34.

Taboada-Hall died on June 20, 2013. Cplt ¶ 36. Six days later, on June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court declared § 3 of DOMA unconstitutional. See United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013). On September 18, 2013, plaintiff obtained an order from the Sonoma County Superior Court stating that the couple's marriage was valid, and the court issued a marriage certificate showing the date of marriage as June 19, 2013. Cplt ¶ 38.

On November 26, 2013, plaintiff submitted a claim for survivor benefits under the Plan. Cplt ¶ 40. By letter dated April 30, 2014, FedEx denied the claim, on the basis that at the time of Taboada-Hall's death, the Plan applied the DOMA definition to "spouse" and thus did not provide survivor benefits to same-sex spouses. Cplt ¶ 42. Plaintiff appealed the decision on June 27, 2014. Cplt ¶ 43. On August 25, 2014, defendant FedEx Corporation Retirement Appeals Committee ("RAC") issued a letter denying plaintiff's appeal, and stating that "for purposes of the Plan" Taboada-Hall was "unmarried at the time of her death, and had no surviving [s]pouse." Cplt ¶ 45.

Plaintiff filed this action on January 14, 2014. Named as defendants are FedEx, the Plan, and RAC. Plaintiff asserts three causes of action - (1) a claim for benefits under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) (against all defendants); (2) a claim of breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) (against FedEx and RAC), for failure to administer the Plan in accordance with applicable law; and (3) a claim of breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) (against FedEx), for failure to inform and/or providing misleading communications.

DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

"For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The purpose of this statute is "to prevent the waste of time, energy and money and to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against ...


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