HRM443: Case Analysis 4 Aries Arditi v. Lighthouse International 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 2553 (2nd Circuit) The issue is whether an employee’s claims relating to his pension are preempted by ERISA. Chin, Circuit Judge. In this case, the district court found that plaintiff-appellant Aries Arditi’s claims against defendant-appellee Lighthouse International (“Lighthouse”) were preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) because they arose under Lighthouse’s Pension Plan (the “Plan”) and not separately and independently out of Arditi’s written employment agreement (the “Agreement”). The district court denied Arditi’s motion to remand the case to state court, holding that Arditi’s claims were preempted by ERISA and that his suit was therefore properly removed to federal court. The district court then dismissed the action for failure to state a claim because Arditi had not stated any basis for challenging Lighthouse’s authority to amend the Plan. On appeal, Arditi argues that the additional benefits he seeks are based on a promise separate and independent from the Plan. We disagree. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s denial of Arditi’s motion to remand the case to state court and dismissal of the action for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. From 1982 to 2000, Arditi was employed by Lighthouse as a “vision scientist.” During this time, under the Plan, Arditi accrued 18.83 years of service credit. In 2000, Arditi left Lighthouse, accepting employment elsewhere. After his departure, Lighthouse amended the Plan, adding a “Rule of 85,” which entitled any qualified employee to retire and collect her pension benefits before the age of 65 if the sum of the employee’s age and years of vested service were equal to or greater than 85. The Plan also reserved Lighthouse’s right to amend the Plan, stating: “Lighthouse reserves the right at any time, by action of the Board, to modify or amend the Plan in whole or in part.” On July 1, 2002, Arditi returned to Lighthouse, in part to take advantage of the Rule of 85 amendment. The Agreement, which was dated June 13, 2002 and signed by both parties, read as follows: With respect to the . . . Plan, in which you are already fully vested, your new employment here will result in reinstatement as a plan member. You now have credited service for purposes of pension calculation of 18.83 years of previous service and the amount of time you work here in the future will be added. Our retirement plan has now added a Rule of 85 provision that provides an unreduced benefit to employees whose age plus years equal 85 or more. As you are now age 51, your age plus your years of service is approximately 70 years. Assuming you continue to work at the Lighthouse for another eight years, your age then, 59 and years of service then, 26, would equal 85. At that time if you opt to retire you will receive an unreduced pension benefit. On May 14, 2007, Lighthouse notified Plan members, including Arditi, that the Plan would be frozen. Indeed, on June 30, 2007, before Arditi’s age and years of service reached a total of 85, the Plan was frozen. The freeze stopped the accrual of service time for all Plan members. On March 19, 2010, Arditi retired. Because of the freeze, Lighthouse did not credit Arditi for nearly three years of service—from July 1, 2007 (the date Lighthouse froze the Plan) to March 19, 2010 (the date Arditi retired). To establish a “uniform regulatory regime over employee benefit plans,” and “to ensure that employee benefit plan regulation is exclusively a federal concern,” ERISA includes expansive pre-emption provisions. ERISA provides that it “shall supersede any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan.” Under the Supreme Court’s test, ERISA preempts a cause of action where: (1) “an individual, at some point in time, could have brought his or her claim under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B)”; and (2) “no other independent legal duty . . . is implicated by a defendant’s actions.” To avoid potential confusion under the first prong of Davila, this Court has further clarified that the plaintiff must show that: (a) he is the type of party who can bring a claim pursuant to § 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA; and (b) the actual claim asserted can be construed as a colorable claim for benefits pursuant to § 502 (a) (1) (B). To avoid ERISA preemption, Arditi argues that he is not seeking benefits under the Plan. Instead, Arditi claims that he is seeking damages for breach of a promise separate and independent from the Plan and set forth in the Agreement, using the Plan merely as a benchmark for damages. The argument fails because Arditi was in fact a participant in the Plan and his pension rights arose under the Plan. When Arditi rejoined Lighthouse, the Agreement stated: “With respect to the Lighthouse International Pension Plan, in which you are already fully vested, your new employment here will result in reinstatement as a plan member.” The Agreement further described Lighthouse’s “Rule of 85” provision as a new addition to “[o]ur retirement plan.” Hence, the language of the Agreement makes clear that Arditi was being “reinstate[d]” into the Plan, and that the Rule of 85 provision had been “added” to the Plan. The Agreement described the benefits that Arditi would acquire upon his return to the Plan and made clear that Arditi’s benefits arose from, and were governed by, the terms of the Plan. The Plan provided more than a mere benchmark for calculating damages; indeed, it was the basis for the claimed benefits. Thus, as the district court correctly held, the Agreement did not establish a separate and independent promise; rather, Arditi’s claims derived directly from the Plan. Here, the Agreement expressly referred to Arditi’s “reinstatement” into the Plan as a Lighthouse employee and described Arditi’s benefits under the Plan upon his return to Lighthouse. The Agreement merely described the benefits Arditi would receive as a Plan member; it made no promises of benefits separate and independent from the benefits under the Plan. Accordingly, we agree with the district court that Arditi’s claims are preempted by ERISA. Here, the district court properly dismissed Arditi’s complaint because he failed to state a claim for relief that was plausible on its face. Arditi did not challenge Lighthouse’s authority to amend the Plan; indeed, Arditi conceded that Lighthouse had the authority to freeze the Plan. Accordingly, the district court properly dismissed Arditi’s action for failure to state a plausible claim. Judgment for Lighthouse International. Case Commentary The 2nd Circuit concluded that the Employment Agreement made no guarantee of benefits outside of the pension plan. Therefore, the matter is governed by ERISA. Case Questions 1. Provide a summary of the main issue of the case. 2. Are you in agreement with the court’s decision? 3. Do you believe ERISA will satisfactorily resolve Arditi’s claims? 4. Is there an ethical resolution?
Case 2 Name: Instructor: Institution: Date: The main issue of the Aries Arditi v. Lighthouse International case was if the entitlement of an employee, especially concerning his or her pension, are usually taken care of by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act(ERISA).Arditi had worked fo