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Saunders v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

May 1, 2015



JOSEPH H. McKINLEY, Jr., Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a motion by Defendant UniCare Life and Health Insurance Company ("UniCare") to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) [DN 7], and on motions by Plaintiff Keith Saunders to supplement his response and the record [DN 14] and to amend his complaint [DN 19]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, Defendant UniCare's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion to Amend is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and Plaintiff's Motion to Supplement is DENIED as moot.


Plaintiff Keith Saunders began working for Defendant Ford Motor Company ("Ford") in July 2001. (Compl. [DN 1-2] ¶ 9.) Plaintiff is a member of a bargaining unit, Local 862 of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America ("UAW"). (Id. ¶ 24.) As a union worker, Plaintiff's employment is governed by the collective-bargaining agreement ("CBA") entered into by UAW Local 862 and Ford. Pursuant to the CBA, Ford provides its eligible employees with disability and accident/sickness benefits under an employee welfare benefit plan (the "Plan"), which is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq. The Plan is self-funded; it does not purchase an insurance policy from any insurance company in order to satisfy its obligations to its participants. Ford is the Plan Administrator for the Plan, for which Defendant UniCare acts as the claims processor for disability and accident/sickness benefits, which are paid by Ford.

In 2001, while working at Ford's Minnesota facility, Plaintiff sustained work-related injuries, which worsened in 2006. As a result of these injuries, Plaintiff was placed on permanent work restrictions. Plaintiff's workers' compensation claim arising from 2001 is still ongoing with Defendant Ford.

In December 2011, Plaintiff was relocated to the Louisville Assembly Plant. Plaintiff alleges that upon relocation, he was stripped of his seniority and placed in a job that violated his work restrictions. According to Plaintiff, he requested accommodation for his disabilities, but Defendant Ford refused to reevaluate him, advising Plaintiff that the company doctors felt as though Plaintiff could "perform the functions of the position without restriction." (Id. ¶ 27.)

On February 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination based on disability and failure to provide reasonable accommodation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). According to Plaintiff, around five days after filing the charge, he was placed on "No Work Available" ("NWA") status and put off of work by Defendant Jeff Marzian[1] ("Marzian"), Superintendent of the Louisville plant, which Plaintiff contends was in violation of the CBA. (Id. ¶¶ 30-32.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a grievance with his union representative in April 2013, alleging that Ford had violated the CBA without justification and requesting that Plaintiff receive eighty days' pay for lost wages because of being placed on NWA status.

In spring 2013, Plaintiff, Defendant Ford, through Defendant Karen Morrison ("Morrison"), Labor Relations Supervisor at the Louisville plant, and the EEOC engaged in mediation. As a result of the mediation, Plaintiff was placed back to work in the trim department, in a position which met his work restrictions. Around three weeks later, Ford informed Plaintiff that there was no longer any work available in the trim department and moved him to another department. Plaintiff contends that there was still work available in the trim department at that time and that his new position, although it did not violate his work restrictions, was below his seniority level. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) According to Plaintiff, another employee not named in this action repeatedly harassed Plaintiff while he performed his new job, by making statements like "you're loitering" and "you can't do shit." (Am. Compl. [DN 19-1] ¶ 43.) Because of that harassment and other work-related treatment, Plaintiff states he checked himself into a medical facility for anxiety, depression, and stress, where he stayed for approximately six weeks between October and December 2013. (Compl. [DN 1-2] ¶¶ 42-44.)

During the time Plaintiff was in the hospital, he received health benefits from Defendant UniCare, pursuant to Ford's self-funded ERISA benefits plan. (Id. ¶ 53.) Plaintiff was released and cleared to return to work around December 16, 2013. (Id. ¶ 45.) Sometime after December 16, 2013, Plaintiff alleges that UniCare stopped paying him benefits, despite that he was still being treated for depression and anxiety stemming from work-related treatment. (Id. ¶ 54.) On January 27, 2014, UniCare started sending Plaintiff benefits again and allegedly acknowledged that they should not have stopped paying Plaintiff benefits. (Id. ¶ 55.) According to Plaintiff, "UniCare has substantially limited monetary relief to Plaintiff." (Id. ¶ 65.)

Also on December 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed a second grievance with UAW Local 862, which he alleges has not been sufficiently addressed. Plaintiff contends that he contacted Labor Relations about finding him a position, which in turn contacted Defendant Marzian. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Marzian did not exhaust any zones to find Plaintiff a position and instead immediately placed him on NWA status, which Plaintiff contends was a violation of the CBA. (Id. ¶ 51.) Plaintiff additionally asserts that Defendants Ford and Marzian did not wait for the Job Placement Committee to meet and make a determination regarding Plaintiff before placing him on NWA status, which Plaintiff contends also violated the CBA. (Id. ¶ 52.)

In May 2013, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Morrison refused to place Plaintiff back to work even though allegedly he had been called back to work, because she believed he had signed a workers' compensation agreement and resigned from Defendant Ford. (Id. ¶ 62.) According to Plaintiff, in early June 2014 the UAW informed him that the UAW system showed that Plaintiff had been discharged as of May 16, 2014, when in fact he had not been. (Id. ¶ 63.) Plaintiff states that since that time he was placed in a temporary position in violation of his rights under the CBA. (Id. ¶ 64.)

On July 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed this action in Jefferson Circuit Court against Ford, two of its employees, Marzian and Morrison, and UniCare. In his complaint, Plaintiff raised twelve state-law claims against Defendants: (1) disability-based discrimination in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act ("KCRA"), KRS 344.040; (2) retaliation in violation of the KCRA;

(3) retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim in violation of KRS 342.197(1); (4) wage and hour violations; (5) violation of Kentucky's insurance laws; (6) tortious interference with a contract; (7) violation of KRS 344.045; (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (9) failure to protect; (10) negligent hire/retention/supervision; (11) promissory estoppel; and (12) civil conspiracy. Seven of those claims are against Defendant UniCare; specifically, unamended Counts 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, and 12 are asserted against both Defendant UniCare and other named Defendants and unamended Count 5 is against UniCare alone.

On August 26, 2014, Defendants removed this action alleging federal question jurisdiction. Following removal, Defendant UniCare moved to dismiss [DN 7] the claims against it on September 2, 2014, contending that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to remand [DN 9], which this Court denied by Order [DN 16] dated January 22, 2015, finding that at least some of Plaintiff's claims were completely preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and asserting supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.

On September 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Response to UniCare's Motion to Dismiss [DN 10], in which he did not oppose the dismissal of unamended Counts 3 (violation of KRS chapter 342), 6 (tortious interference with contract), 8 (negligent infliction of emotional distress), and 9 (failure to protect) with prejudice. On January 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Supplement Response and Record with Newly Discovered Evidence [DN 14] regarding his Response to Defendant UniCare's Motion to Dismiss [DN 10]. The "newly discovered evidence" Plaintiff sought to enter into the record was an unauthenticated alleged draft workers' compensation settlement from Minnesota, which lists the same attorney as representing Defendants Ford and UniCare (see [DN 14-1]). Defendant UniCare was the only defendant to respond to this motion [DN 17]. Instead of filing a reply brief to Defendant UniCare's Response, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend his complaint [DN 19] on February 11, 2015, attaching to the Amended Complaint the draft workers' compensation settlement. Defendant UniCare was also the only defendant to respond to the motion to amend [DN 20].


A. Motion to Dismiss

Upon a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court "must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff[], " League of United Latin American Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007), "accept all well-pled factual allegations as true, " id., and determine whether the "complaint states a plausible claim for relief, " Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Under this standard, the plaintiff must provide the grounds for his or her entitlement to relief, which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A plaintiff satisfies this standard only when he or she "pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint falls short if it pleads facts "merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, " id. at 678 ...

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