United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division
FREDERICK D. SHEPHERD, JR., Plaintiff,
COMMUNITY FIRST BANK, COMMUNITY FIRST BANK SERP PLAN, RICHARD D. BURLESON, GARY V. THRIFT, DR. LARRY S. BOWMAN, WILLIAM M. BROWN, JOHN R. HAMRICK, JAMES E. TURNER, CHARLES L. WINCHESTER, and ROBERT H. EDWARDS, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND
DISMISSING WITHOUT PREJUDICE IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION
TO DISMISS OR STAY
GEIGER LEWIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an action for the recovery of retirement benefits under a
plan (the Plan) governed by the Employee Retirement and
Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA or the Act). The Court has
jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
before the Court is Defendants Community First Bank (the
Bank), Community First Bank SERP Plan, Richard D. Burleson,
Gary V. Thrift, Dr. Larry S. Bowman, William M. Brown, John
R. Hamrick, James E. Turner, Charles L. Winchester, and
Robert H. Edwards' (collectively Defendants) Motion to
Dismiss or Stay (Motion to Dismiss). ECF No. 44.
carefully considered the Motion to Dismiss, the response, the
reply, the record, and the applicable law, it is the judgment
of the Court Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be
granted in part and dismissed without prejudice in part. The
Court will grant the portion of Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss that seeks to require Plaintiff to exhaust
administrative remedies available under the Plan. The Court
will dismiss without prejudice and with leave to refile the
remainder of the Motion to Dismiss.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Court draws the relevant background facts largely from
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and, for purposes of this
Order, assumes their veracity.
previously served as President and CEO of the Bank. ECF No.
36, ¶ 7. The Bank and Plaintiff entered into the Plan on
July 31, 2007, under which the Bank agreed to provide certain
supplemental retirement benefits to Plaintiff. Id.
¶ 10. The Plan is governed by ERISA. ECF No. 34 at 3-5.
The Plan provides the Bank shall pay Plaintiff certain yearly
benefits for twenty years if Plaintiff continues to work at
the Bank past the age of seventy-one. ECF No. 36-1 at 2-4.
The Plan further establishes it will terminate in the event
Plaintiff's employment with the Bank is terminated for
cause. Id. at 6.
6 of the Plan sets forth a claim and review procedure for
disputes regarding the payment of benefits under the Plan.
Id. at 8-9. Article 6.1.1 provides a person who
believes benefits have been wrongfully withheld shall submit
a written claim for benefits to the
Administrator. Id. at 8. Under article 6.1.2,
the Bank “shall respond to the claimant within 90 days
after receiving the claim.” Id. If warranted
by special circumstances, the Bank may extend the response
period an additional 90 days by notifying the claimant of the
extension in writing before the end of the initial response
period. Id. Article 6.1.3 states “[i]f the
Bank denies part or all of the claim, the Bank shall notify
the claimant in writing of the denial.” Id.
Article 6.1.3 further specifies certain information the
notification of the Bank's denial must contain.
6.2 outlines the appellate procedure for reviewing the
Bank's denial of a claim made under Article 6.1.
Id. To initiate a review of the Bank's denial of
a claim, a claimant must file a written request for review
with the Bank within 60 days after receiving the denial.
Id. The Bank must notify the claimant in writing of
its decision upon review within 60 days of receiving the
request for review. Id. The Bank's notification
of its decision must contain certain information, including
the “specific reasons for the denial” and a
“statement of the claimant's right to bring a civil
action under ERISA section 502(a).” Id. at 9.
accordance with the terms of the Plan, the Bank began making
monthly payments to Plaintiff after December 20, 2011, when
Plaintiff reached the age of seventy-one. ECF No. 36, ¶
23. Plaintiff retired from the Bank on December 30, 2014.
Id. ¶ 25. On May 26, 2015, the Bank, the
Bank's Board of Directors, and the Plan Administrators
notified Plaintiff the Bank would cease making payments under
the Plan. Id. ¶ 32.
sent a written notice and claim to the Bank on June 19, 2015,
requesting the Bank and Plan Administrators review the
decision to cease making payments under the Plan and
reinstate his benefits. Id. ¶ 36. The Bank and
Plan Administrators sent a notice to Plaintiff acknowledging
receipt of his claim. Id. ¶ 37. The notice
indicated the Bank treated Plaintiff's claim as
originating under Article 6.1.1 of the Plan and would respond
accordingly. Id. The Bank, however, failed to notify
Plaintiff of its decision regarding his claim within 90 days
of receiving the claim as required by the Plan. Id.
¶ 39. The Bank also neglected to notify Plaintiff it
needed additional time to respond to his claim. Id.
to Plaintiff's June 19, 2015, demand for benefits, the
Bank filed an action in state court against Plaintiff
alleging fraud, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment.
Id. ¶ 41.
filed his initial Complaint in this matter on September 25,
2015, in the Court of Common Pleas for Oconee County, South
Carolina. ECF No. 1-1. Defendants removed the case to this
Court on October 23, 2015. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff filed his
Amended Complaint (Complaint) on March 31, 2016. ECF No. 36.
The Complaint asserts claims against Defendants for recovery
of benefits, administrative remedy, equitable relief under
ERISA, anti-retaliation, and attorneys' fees and costs.
filed their Motion to Dismiss on May 9, 2016. ECF No. 44.
Plaintiff responded to the Motion to Dismiss on May 26, 2016,
ECF No. 45, and Defendants replied on June 6, 2016, ECF No.
46. The Court, having been fully briefed on the relevant
issues, is now prepared to discuss the merits of
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency
of a complaint.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro,
178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). To survive a motion to
dismiss, a complaint must contain “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).
Rule 8(a) does not require “‘detailed factual
allegations, '” it requires “more than an
unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation,
” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
555 (2007)), to “‘give the defendant fair notice
of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests, '” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555
(quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).
In other words, “a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible ...