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Guenther v. Lockheed Martin Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

March 14, 2017

CHARLES GUENTHER, Plaintiff,
v.
LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS RE: DKT. NO. 117

          EDWARD J. DAVILA United States District Judge

         In the latest iteration of this action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), Plaintiff Charles Guenther (“Plaintiff”) alleges in a Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) that Defendants Lockheed Martin Corporation (“Lockheed”) and Lockheed Martin Corporation Retirement Plan for Certain Salaried Employees (collectively, “Defendants”) breached a fiduciary duty to make accurate and correct representations concerning his ability to “bridge” prior employment service credit with future service credit.

         Federal jurisdiction arises pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1132(e). Presently before the court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the SAC as time-barred (Dkt. No. 117), which Plaintiff opposes. This matter is suitable for decision without oral argument, and the hearing scheduled for March 16, 2017, will be vacated. Civ. L.R. 7-1(b).

         Although Defendant's position on the statute of limitations represents one possible resolution of this case in its current form, it ultimately fails to achieve dismissal under the Rule 12(b)(6) standard. Thus, Defendants' motion will be denied for the reasons explained below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Current Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges he had two prior periods of employment with Lockheed, from 1983 to 1991 and from 1997 to 2001. SAC, at ¶ 4. Before he was rehired in 1997, Plaintiff informed Lockheed that “his top priority was bridging his service for purposes of pension eligibility.” Id.

         In 2006, Plaintiff was contacted by Lockheed to resume another period of employment at the company. Id. at ¶ 5. Plaintiff alleges that, as before, one of his “key conditions” to returning was that “his prior service be bridged so that he could receive the full benefit of the company's defined benefit retirement plan in which he had already accumulated many years of service. Id. at ¶ 6. Lockheed recruiters indicated that it was possible for Plaintiff to bridge service, but that he would need to submit a form which was provided to him. Id. According to Plaintiff, the form stated: “If your request is approved, the date you submit this application is the effective date that your current period of service will bridge with your prior service. Id. at ¶ 7.

         Plaintiff alleges he submitted the form on July 17, 2006, in the manner instructed. Id. Lockheed responded in writing on July 25, 2016, stating: “Since you were vested in a pension benefit provided by the Lockheed Martin Corporation Retirement Plan for Certain Salaried Employees, your prior period of Lockheed/Lockheed Martin service will be bridged with your proposed current Lockheed Martin service.” Id. at ¶ 8, Ex. A. Based on Lockheed's written and oral representations and from the treatment of his 1997 re-hire, Plaintiff alleges he “reasonably concluded . . . that he would continue in the Lockheed Martin Corporation Retirement Plan for Certain Salaried Employees.” Id. at ¶ 9. He states that no other plan was brought to his attention. Id.

         Plaintiff rejoined Lockheed on September 11, 2006. Id. at ¶ 11. In November, 2006, he received another letter from Lockheed, this time stating the following, in pertinent part: “It should be noted that because you are not currently participating in a Lockheed Martin defined benefit pension plan, you are not entitled to a pension benefit from Lockheed Martin for your current period of service.” Id. at ¶ 12, Ex. B. Plaintiff attempted to receive clarification of this statement in various ways between 2006 and 2010 but was unsuccessful. Id. at ¶¶ 13-23.

         Plaintiff alleges he submitted a claim for benefits to the Plan on April 20, 2012, which the Plan denied on June 6, 2012. Id. at ¶ 26. Plaintiff appealed from the decision, which was also denied. Id. at ¶ 30.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff initiated this action in Santa Clara County Superior Court on November 8, 2010, and Defendants removed it to this court on January 26, 2011. Plaintiff's original and First Amended Complaints asserted two causes of action, one under ERISA (29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)), and one for breach of contract. The court dismissed the breach of contract claim with prejudice, but stayed the remainder of the case so that Plaintiff could exhaust an administrative appeal. Dkt. No. 37.

         The stay was extinguished on November 30, 2012 (Dkt. No. 43), and Defendants filed motions for summary judgment and adjudication. The court granted both motions, determining that Defendants' decision to deny Plaintiff “bridging” benefits was not an abuse of ...


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