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Hendricks v. Home Depot

November 28, 2006

MARY HENDRICKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOME DEPOT, INC. DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Michael R. Barrett

OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is the October 7, 2004 Motion of Defendant to Dismiss Counts I, III, IV and V of Plaintiff's Class and Individual Complaint (Doc. 13). Plaintiffs filed a Memorandum in Opposition on December 1, 2004 (Doc. 25). Defendants filed a Reply Memorandum on December 15, 2004 (Doc. 26).

This matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion of Defendant to Dismiss Counts I, III, IV and V of Plaintiff's Class and Individual Complaint (Doc. 13) is hereby GRANTED.

A. FACTS

Plaintiff Mary Hendricks filed her five count complaint, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, on June 21, 2004 against Defendant Home Depot, Inc.*fn1 ("Home Depot") alleging wrongful discharge in violation of Ohio Public Policy (Count I), ERISA violations (Count II), Breach of Contract (Count III), Promissory Estoppel (Count IV) and Negligent Misrepresentation (Count V) (Doc. 1). On October 7, 2004 Defendant filed an answer and the motion to dismiss which is the subject of this order.

Plaintiff, an employee of Home Depot, was injured on the job on April 5, 2002 (Doc. 1, ¶21). Due to this injury, Defendant placed Plaintiff on medical leave (Id.). While on medical leave, Defendant provided Plaintiff with welfare benefits pursuant to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 (COBRA) (Id. at ¶23). Defendant's welfare benefits that fall under ERISA include, but are not limited to, life insurance, short-term disability, long-term disability, partial disability, health, dental, and vision insurance, and reduced COBRA rates for health, dental and vision insurance (Id. at ¶24). Plaintiff also received temporary total disability compensation ("TTD Compensation") from the Ohio bureau of Workers' Compensation (Id. at ¶26).

Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant has a "practice and policy of terminating employees who are receiving temporary total disability compensation pursuant to R.C. 4123.56 on the basis of absenteeism or inability to work related [to] those employees' allowed conditions, in violation of Ohio common law, and for terminating employees on medical leave for the purpose of interfering with the use of those employees' welfare benefits, in violation fo the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ('ERISA'), 29 U.S.C. §1001, et seq." (Id. at ¶1). Specifically, it is Defendant's standard operating procedure to terminate employees who remain on medical leave for 12 months (Id. at ¶27). Plaintiff alleges that "Defendant formulated this standard operating procedure to avoid having to provide benefits to workers out on medical leave" (Id. at 29). In furtherance of this Policy, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant terminated Plaintiff after she had been on medical leave for twelve months (Id. at ¶¶30 and 31) and that she was discharged "for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of her rights to which she was or would become entitled to as a participant of Defendant's ERISA-covered welfare benefit plan" (Id. at ¶33).

Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant offered and promised health insurance coverage for the month of January, 2004 to Plaintiff (Id. at ¶34) and that Plaintiff accepted this offer by remitting payment to Defendant (Id. at ¶35). Defendant cashed Plaintiff's check but has since refused her coverage (Id. at ¶¶ 35 and 37).

B. ARGUMENTS

Defendant argues that all of Plaintiff's claims, except Count II as to the alleged ERISA violations, are preempted under ERISA's express preemption provision, 29 U.S.C. §1144, and/or are impliedly preempted under ERISA's exclusive administrative enforcement provisions, because they relate to and have a connection with ERISA-governed employee welfare benefit plans.

Plaintiff counters, as to Count I, that Ohio's tort for wrongful discharge is a remedy for unlawful terminations that violate established Ohio public policy as set forth in Coolidge v. Riverdale Local School Dist., 100 Ohio St.3d 141, 2003 Ohio 5357, and is not to remedy a denial of benefits and, thus, is not preempted by ERISA. As to the individual state law claims (breach of contract, promissory estoppel and negligent misrepresentation), Plaintiff counters that they are not preempted by ERISA because they are premised on a promise by Home Depot, distinct from the terms of any benefit plan, to provide insurance, and therefore, are not related to Plaintiff's eligibility for benefits under any ERISA plan. In the alternative, Plaintiff counters that she did not have standing to bring suit for these claims under ERISA because she is not a "participant" as that term is defined in ERISA because she was no longer an employee of Home Depot.

C. ANALYSIS

Defendant seeks, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b), an order from the Court dismissing Plaintiff's Complaint as to Counts I, III, IV and V on the ground of failure to state a claim upon which relief can ...


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