United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Howe Hendricks United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Defendants U.S. Airways, Inc.,
U.S. Airways Group, Inc., American Airlines Group Inc., and
U.S. Airways Health Benefit Plan's (collectively,
“Defendants”) motion for summary judgment. (ECF
No. 71.) For the reasons set forth in this order,
Defendants' motion is granted.
factual and procedural background of this case is set forth
thoroughly in the Court's prior orders, (1) granting in
part and denying in part Defendants' motion to dismiss
the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted, and (2) denying Plaintiff Jennifer
Perkins' (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) motion to
reconsider. (See ECF Nos. 36 & 69.) The Court
assumes knowledge of that background, incorporates it by
specific reference herein, and summarizes here only in
is a participant in the U.S. Airways Health Benefit Plan (the
“Plan”). The Plan is a welfare benefit plan as
defined by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of
1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(d)(1).
Defendant U.S. Airways, Inc. (“US Airways”), was
at all relevant times the plan administrator. On May 10,
2000, Plaintiff was struck by lightning while working as a
flight attendant for U.S. Airways. Since that time she has
suffered from a variety of medical issues related to the
lightning strike, which ultimately prevented her from
performing her duties as a flight attendant. Plaintiff has
been on an approved medical leave of absence from U.S.
Airways since October 2001, and has been receiving long-term
disability benefits since that time.
gravamen of this lawsuit, as initially filed, was
Plaintiff's challenge of U.S. Airways' denial of
certain claims for medical benefits under ERISA, 29 U.S.C.
§ 1001 et seq., and the Medicare Secondary
Payer Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(3)(A), along with her
assertion that U.S. Airways failed to adequately explain the
reason for the denial, in violation of the procedural
requirements of ERISA § 503(2), 29 U.S.C. §
1133(2). The Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss
these claims, and denied Plaintiff's motion to reconsider
that ruling. (See ECF Nos. 36 & 69.)
Plaintiff's only remaining claim is that U.S. Airways
violated ERISA by failing to timely provide her with Plan
documents pursuant to ERISA § 502(c)(1), 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(c)(1). (See Compl. ¶¶ 65-73,
ECF No. 1.)
October 18, 2010, Plaintiff submitted a written request, via
certified mail return receipt requested, to U.S. Airways for
copies of the “Summary Plan Descriptions for U.S.
Airways Flight Attendants Health Benefits and Long Term
Disability Benefits for years 2010, 2001, and 2000 . . .
.” (ECF No. 71-13.) This written request apparently
followed several conversations Plaintiff had undertaken with
a representative of U.S. Airways, in which it was indicated
that the documents related to the Plan would be mailed to
Plaintiff, and Plaintiff was informed where they could be
found on the company's “eBenefits” portal
(though Plaintiff was unable to locate them there).
week later, on October 25, 2010, U.S. Airways sent to
Plaintiff, via federal express, copies of various documents
related to the Plan, including the 1993 Health Benefits Plan
Summary Plan Description (“1993 SPD”) and all
other materials U.S. Airways determined to be relevant to
Plaintiff's request. (ECF No. 71-12 at 5.) Plaintiff
acknowledges that she received the Plan materials mailed to
her in October 2010, whereupon she wrote down the titles of
the documents received, placed them back in the envelope in
which they came, and “turned [them] over” to her
attorney, Mr. Norris A. Adams, II, Esq.
(“Adams”), without “look[ing] at [the 1993
SPD].” (Perkins Dep. 38:18-39:3, 59:22-60:7, ECF No.
71-2 at 10-11, 15-16.)
November 4, 2010, Plaintiff requested Plan documents again,
itemizing various documents she asserted U.S. Airways had not
provided in response to her October 18, 2010 letter. She
you for the Summary Plan Descriptions you sent October 27,
2010, consisting of the following:
1) U.S. Air Health Benefit Plan January 1993
2) U.S. Airways Long Term Disability Benefit Plan April 1,
3) U.S. Airways Health Benefit Plan May 1, 2003 and (2) 4)
U.S. Airways Long Term Benefit Plans Jan. 1,
So far I have only received one Summary Plan that I
have requested and that is the Long Term SPD for 2001. I have
been requesting these Summary Plans since Sept. 13,
2010. U.S. Airways flight attendant contract
changed May 1, 2000, and I would like the Summary Plans that
covered that new contract for Health, and Long Term Benefits.
I still would like the Summary Plan Descriptions for the
1) U.S. Airways Health Benefit Plan for May 1, 2000
2) U.S. Airways Long Term Disability Plan May 1, 2000
3) U.S. Airways Health Benefit Plan for 2001
4) U.S. Airways Long Term Disability Plan for
5) U.S. Airways Health Benefit Plan for 2010
6) U.S. Airways Long Term Benefit Plan for 2010
*A new request as of November 4, 2010.
(ECF No. 71-10 at 2.) Kimie Shanahan, U.S. Airways Manager
Benefits Services responded to Plaintiff's second request
on November 8, 2010, stating:
First of all let me apologize if I have not been clear in our
prior contacts. The SPD's [sic] and plan documents
that I sent to you are the only ones there are. The fact
that your contract may have changed does not mean that the
medical plan or the Flight Attendant LTD plan also changed.
We do not write new plans simply because the contract has
been changed. The Collectively bargained agreements are
completely different from the company medical plan or the
long term disability plan and very little about either of
those plans is actually covered by the Flight Attendant
I have provided you with everything we have about both
the health plan and the Flight Attendant long term disability
plan. If you are looking for something specific that was
covered in one or more of the Flight Attendant contracts and
you believe it should be included in the LTD plan or the
health care plan then it would be helpful for me to know
exactly what it is you are trying to find. Let me also say
that if there is any way in which the health plan or the LTD
plan differs from the Contract, the Contract will always
Please let me know if you have any further questions.
(ECF No. 71-11 at 2 (emphasis added).)
January 25, 2011, Adams wrote to U.S. Airways on
Plaintiff's behalf, inter alia, requesting
various documents related to the Plan. (ECF No. 71-9 at 4-6.)
In that letter, Adams repeated Plaintiff's assertion that
only “the 1993, 2003, and 2004 summary plan
descriptions” had been provided to Plaintiff, and
“reassert[ed]” Plaintiff's document requests
because of U.S. Airways' putative “failure to
adequately respond” thereto. (Id. at 4-5.) In
a February 11, 2011 letter addressing Adams' contention
that U.S. Airways had improperly refused to provide Plaintiff
with copies of Plan documents, Don Pan, U.S. Airways Vice
President of Human Resources, stated:
Pursuant to Ms. Perkins' October 2010 requests, Kimie
Shanahan transmitted to Ms. Perkins by federal express on
October 25, 2010 copies of the Health Plan's summary plan
descriptions dated 1993, 2003 and 2008, as well as the LTD
plan's Plan document and current SPD. Ms. Perkins also
requested SPDs for 2000, 2001 and 2010, as those dates
correspond to new collective bargaining agreements. However,
as Ms. Shanahan explained to Ms. Perkins, there are no SPDs
with those specific dates; contrary to Ms. Perkins'
understanding, the Plan Administrator for the Medical Plan
and for the LTD Plan was not required by law to issue a new
SPD, and did not issue a new SPD, every time there was a
change to the terms of the flight attendants'
collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Airways.
Rather, ERISA requires plan administrators to issue new SPDs
every five years if plan amendments have been made
during the prior five years, and every ten years if no plan
amendments were made. ERISA § 104(b)(1). The Plan
Administrator for the LTD Plan and the Medical Plan has
furnished updated SPDs in accordance with ERISA's
requirements. The Flight Attendant Agreement Between U.S.
Airways, Inc. and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA,
AFL-CIO dated January 10, 2005 to December 31, 2011 is
enclosed as requested.
(ECF No. 71-12 at 5-6 (emphasis in original, internal
current ERISA § 502(c)(1) claim focuses on document
requests she posed to U.S. Airways in September 2011 and
December 2011. On September 30, 2011, Plaintiff penned
another letter seeking, inter alia, “any
medical and vocational records, the relevant group insurances
[sic] policies, the relevant Summary Plan Discriptions [sic],
[and] all relevant admendments [sic] to Summary Plan
Discriptions [sic] . . . .” (ECF No. 1-1 at 2.) Ms.
Shanahan responded to this request by way of a December 2,
2011 letter, stating: “With respect to your document
request, we have already provided all relevant plan
documents, summary plan descriptions and collective
bargaining agreements that govern the terms of your medical
coverage (please see our discussion of this topic in the last
section of our February 11, 2011
letter).” (ECF No. 1-2 at 2.) On December 13, 2011,
Plaintiff wrote yet another letter seeking Plan documents,
and referencing Ms. Shanahan's December 2, 2011 letter as
In your explanation for not sending me documents requested, I
understand U.S. Airways sent Mr. Adams all relevant plan
documents Feb. 11, 2011. It is my understanding under ERISA
that it is my right to also request those documents for
myself based on my leave in 2001.
I would appreciate if you could send me the following
information: all relevant plan documents that were in your
possession at the time U.S. Airways made the decision to name
themselves secondary payor of my medical benefits for 2011.
All Summary Plan Discriptions [sic] in FULL (my copy and Mr.
Adams copy of the 1993 Health Benefit Plan were missing pages
121 thru 125), all relevant admendments [sic] to the
Summary Plan Discriptions [sic], and all collective
(ECF No. 1-3 at 3.) Next, Plaintiff's current counsel
wrote a letter dated January 25, 2012, asserting that U.S.
Airways had failed to provide requested Plan documents in
response to Plaintiff's September 30, 2011 and December
13, 2011 letters, and stating:
My client has checked with her previous attorney. While he
did have some Plan Documents, he did not have the entire Plan
Documents at issue. More specifically, as my client wrote to
you on December 13, 2011, the health benefit plan was missing
pages 121 through 125, when it was provided to Mr. Adams.
Consequently, my client does not have a complete copy of that
entire document. We understand the missing pages are the ones
that address the ...