United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
SHEILA K. BAKER, Executor of the Estate of Earl Wayne Arthur, Plaintiff,
THE OHIO OPERATING ENGINEERS PENSION PLAN, et al., Defendants.
Algenon L. Marbley Judge
OPINION AND ORDER
ELIZABETH A. PRESTON DEAVERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action for benefits under an employee benefit plan under
the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29
U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. (“ERISA”).
This matter is before the Court for consideration of
Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Conduct Discovery. (ECF
No. 29.) For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion
Carol A. Wilson is the fund administrator and plan
administrator of Defendant Ohio Operating Engineers Pension
Plan (“Pension Plan”), an employee pension
benefit plan within the meaning of ERISA. (First Amended
Complaint ¶¶ 7, 9, ECF No. 15 (“Am.
Compl.”).) Defendants Vic DiGeronimo, Jr., Stanley I.
Roedinger, Jr., Mark Sterling, George Palko, Patrick L. Sink,
Richard E. Dalton, Mark Totman, and Thomas P. Byers are
current trustees of the Pension Plan (collectively,
“the Trustees”). (Id. at ¶ 8.) Four
of the Trustees are representatives of the International
Union of Operating Engineers (“the Union”) and
the remaining four Trustees are representatives of the
employer association. (Administrative Record
(“A.R.”) at OOE 000030, OOE 000034, OOE
Sheila K. Baker, is the executor of the estate of her
decedent, Earl Wayne Arthur (“the Estate”). (Am.
Compl. ¶ 4.) Mr. Arthur is a deceased former participant
in the Pension Plan. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5, 12.)
When he retired on May 1, 2014, Mr. Arthur elected to receive
his pension benefit in a payment known as the “Normal
Form” of payment, which guarantees 60 monthly payments.
(Id. at ¶ 13.) At the time of his death on
September 22, 2016, Mr. Arthur had received 29 of the 60
guaranteed payments under the Pension Plan. (Id. at
¶ 14.) Mr. Arthur, who was not married at the time of
his death, died without surviving children, surviving
parents, or surviving brothers or sisters, or a valid
beneficiary designation for the payment of remaining benefits
under the Pension Plan. (Id. at ¶ 15.)
around November 8, 2016, the Estate submitted a claim for
death benefits under the Pension Plan. (Id. at
¶ 16.) In a letter dated December 2, 2016, the
Estate's claim for benefits was denied because “the
Estate is not a designated beneficiary to Mr. Arthur's
death benefit[.]” (Id. at ¶¶ 17-18
(internal quotation marks omitted).) The Estate appealed the
denial of benefits, arguing that it was a permissible
beneficiary under the Pension Plan. (Id. at
¶¶ 19- 30.)
letter dated February 10, 2017, Plaintiff was advised that
“the Trustees of the Pension Fund considered the appeal
at their February 6, 2017 [meeting]. After discussion, the
Trustees decided to deny the Appeal.” (Id. at
¶ 31 (internal quotation marks omitted).) The letter
further advised that the Estate was not a “designated
default beneficiary” to Mr. Arthur's death benefit
and, therefore, “the estate is not entitled to the
death benefit under the Pension Plan.” (Id. at
¶ 32 (internal quotation marks omitted).)
filed this action on April 14, 2017, and later filed the
Amended Complaint, asserting three claims. (ECF Nos. 1, 15.)
Plaintiff first asserts a claim for benefits under ERISA
§ 502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). (Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 38-48.) Her second claim is for breach of
fiduciary duty, seeking “equitable relief of
reformation” under ERISA § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(a)(3). (Id. at ¶¶ 49-62.)
Plaintiff last asserts a breach of fiduciary duty claim,
seeking “equitable relief of restitution” under
ERISA § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3).
(Id. at ¶¶ 63-66.)
has moved for leave to conduct discovery on her three claims.
(ECF No. 29; see also Affidavit, ECF No. 30.)
Defendants have opposed Plaintiff's Motion (ECF No. 31),
and Plaintiff has filed a reply in support of her request
(ECF No. 33.) This matter is now ripe for resolution.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorize “discovery
regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any
party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of
the case[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Generally,
discovery outside of the administrative record is not
permitted in ERISA actions. Wilkins v. Baptist Healthcare
Sys., Inc., 150 F.3d 609, 618 (6th Cir. 1998) (Gilman,
J., concurring); see also Schwalm v. Guardian Life Ins.
Co. of Am., 626 F.3d 299, 308 (6th Cir. 2010)
(“The court's review is thus limited to the
administrative record.”). The United States Court of
Appeals for the Sixth Circuit previously explained that
“[p]ermitting or requiring district courts to consider
evidence from both parties that was not presented to the plan
administrator would seriously impair the achievement
of” one of ERISA's primary goals of
“provid[ing] a method for workers and beneficiaries to
resolve disputes over benefits inexpensively and
expeditiously.” Perry v. Simplicity
Eng'g, a Div. of Lukens Gen. Indus., Inc., 900 F.2d
963, 967 (6th Cir. 1990). However, courts recognize an
exception “when evidence outside the record ‘is
offered in support of a procedural challenge to the
administrator's decision, such as an alleged lack of due
process afforded by the administrator or alleged bias on its
part.'” Johnson v. Connecticut Gen. Life Ins.
Co., 324 Fed.Appx. 459, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Wilkins, 150 F.3d at 619 (Gilman, J., concurring)).
In instances involving such challenges, evidence outside the
record may be relevant and discoverable. See id.;
preliminary matter, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's
second and third claims on March 2, 2018, after
Plaintiff's Motion was filed. (ECF No. 37.) Accordingly,
as it relates to these ...