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Allbaugh v. California Field Ironworkers Pension Trust

United States District Court, D. Nevada

May 20, 2014

DONALD ALLBAUGH, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
CALIFORNIA FIELD IRONWORKERS PENSION TRUST et. al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND [DOC. 37], DENYING DEFENDANT'S COUNTERMOTION TO STRIKE [DOC. 42], AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE [DOC. 57].

JENNIFER A. DORSEY, District Judge.

This is a proposed class action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") for alleged miscalculation and failed payment of pension benefits. Plaintiff Donald Allbaugh asserts he is entitled to greater pension benefits than he is currently receiving to account for deferred benefits accumulated while he continued working after reaching retirement age. In his original complaint, Plaintiff also included a claim in his individual capacity that the Plan Administrator had miscalculated the amount of benefits owed to Plaintiff under the terms of the retirement plan (the "Plan"). Plaintiff avers that discovery has revealed that the Plan Administrator systematically violated the terms of the Plan in calculating the benefits for not just him but all similarly situated retirees. He now requests leave to amend his complaint to expand the miscalculation allegations to the class.[1]

In addition to his motion to amend, Plaintiff moves for certification of the class, including with that motion a declaration of his counsel attesting to supporting facts.[2] Defendant's response to the motion for class certification includes a countermotion to strike the declaration of Plaintiff's attorney for lack of foundation. Plaintiff moves to strike Defendant's attorney's declaration attached to the Reply in support of the countermotion, arguing that the declaration asserts new arguments not included in the countermotion itself.

Because the motion to amend was not filed with undue delay or bad faith, will not prejudice Defendant, and is not futile, the Court grants leave to amend. The Court will address the class certification motion by separate order, [3] but herein denies the motions to strike as procedurally improper and also denies the parties' dueling requests to disregard the declarations of their adversaries' counsel.

Background[4]

From 1970 and continuing at various time through June 30, 2009, Allbaugh worked for employers who had contracts with the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers. Those contracts required the employers to make contributions on behalf of employed ironworkers to Defendant California Field Ironworkers Pension Trust (the "Plan"), a multiemployer defined benefit employee pension benefit plan. As a result of his employment and the required employer contributions, Plaintiff obtained a vested right to pension benefit payments upon turning sixty-five (normal retirement age). But rather than retiring at sixtyfive, he continued working for an additional two years.

Under its terms, the Plan withheld benefit payments to Plaintiff during his continued employment after reaching normal retirement age. However, when Plaintiff actually retired, he was only awarded pension credit for his extra years of service, not an actuarial increased benefit payment to account for the withheld benefits. Plaintiff argued that he was entitled to more benefits under the Plan and appealed the Plan's determination through the review process provided under the Plan. When the Plan's determination was upheld, Plaintiff brought this lawsuit on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated. He seeks an actuarial adjustment to future benefit payments to recoup the benefits withheld during the time between reaching normal retirement age and actual retirement.

Plaintiff's Complaint contains four counts pertinent to the class and to this motion.[5] First, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant improperly suspended benefit payments during his and the class's continued employment because it failed to provide the notice of suspension required under ERISA and corresponding regulations. Second, Plaintiff alleges that a prior version of the Plan provided for both pension credit and an actuarial increase to compensate for continued employment after normal retirement age; under the Plan as amended, however, a delayed retiree is only entitled to the greater of these two amounts. Plaintiff argues that the application of the Plan as amended to determine his benefits improperly reduced the amount of his retirement benefits. Third, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated its fiduciary duties by amending the Plan and by providing false information to Plaintiff. Fourth, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant miscalculated the actuarial adjustment to which Plaintiff was entitled and, consequently, did not award the greater of the pension credit earned or the actuarial adjustment in accordance with the Plan as amended. By his motion to amend, Plaintiff seeks to extend the fourth claim to the class. The parties also move to strike attorney declarations submitted in support of their respective class-certification filings. Docs. 42, 57. Having considered the proposed amended complaint and the parties' submissions, the Court grants leave to amend but denies both motions to strike for the reasons set forth below.[6]

Discussion

A. Motion to Amend

Once the time for amendment as a matter of course has expired, a party may amend its complaint only by leave of court or with the adverse party's written consent.[7] The court has discretion to grant leave and should freely do so "when justice so requires."[8] "In exercising its discretion[, ]... a court must be guided by the underlying purpose of Rule 15-to facilitate decision on the merits rather than on the pleadings or technicalities.... Thus, Rule 15's policy of favoring amendments to pleadings should be applied with extreme liberality."[9] "Generally, this determination should be performed with all inferences in favor of granting the motion."[10] Nonetheless, "leave to amend is not to be granted automatically."[11] Courts may deny leave to amend if it will cause: (1) undue delay; (2) undue prejudice to the opposing party; (3) the request is made in bad faith; (4) the party has repeatedly failed to cure deficiencies; or (5) the amendment would be futile.[12]

Defendant opposes amendment, contending that the request was unduly delayed and prejudices Defendant by expanding the scope of litigation months after the filing of the original complaint. Defendant also contends that the proposed amendment is unsupported by evidence and suffers from legal deficiencies that render any attempt to amend futile. The Court disagrees on both points.

1. The Motion to Amend is Timely

Although the request for leave to amend was filed nearly a year after the original filing, it is still timely because the information precipitating amendment was obtained in the process of discovery and Plaintiff brought the motion before the expiration of the stipulated deadline for amendments set by the pretrial order. In his motion, Plaintiff explains that the systematic miscalculation of the entire class's benefits was only discovered after reviewing benefit files for the proposed class. These documents, which Defendant admits total more than 10, 000 pages, ...


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