United States District Court, D. Idaho
VICKI MICHAEL, On behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
CONAGRA BRANDS, INC. PENSION PLAN FOR HOURLY PRODUCTION WORKERS, an employee pension benefit plan; CONAGRA BRANDS EMPLOYEE BENEFITS ADMINISTRATIVE COMMITTEE, the Plan Administrator; CONAGRA BRANDS APPEALS COMMITTEE; and DOES I-XX, individual members of the Plan administrative and/or appeals committees, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
C. NYE U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
before the Court is a Motion for More Definitive Statement
(Dkt. 5) filed by Defendants ConAgra Brand, Inc. Pension Plan
for Hourly Production Workers (“the ConAgra
Plan”), ConAgra Brands Employee Benefits Administrative
Committee (“Administrative Committee”), ConAgra
Brands Appeals Committee (“Appeals Committee”),
and Does I-XX (“Does”) (referred to collectively
as “Defendants”). Defendants move for a more
definite statement regarding the claims and allegations
against each of them. The Court finds this matter suitable
for disposition without oral argument. See Dist.
Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(2)(ii). Having considered the
parties' submissions and the relevant legal authority,
the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion.
case stems from the administration of a qualified pension
plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of
1974 (“ERISA”). See ERISA §3(2)(A),
29 U.S.C. § 1002(2)(A). Plaintiff Vicki Michael
(“Michael”) was a participant in the ConAgra
Plan. The history of how Michael became a participant in the
ConAgra Plan spans over 42 years of her employment, and is
summarized as follows:
1974, Michael began her employment at a processing plant
(“Lamb-Weston”) in American Falls, Idaho. At that
time, Amfac Foods, Inc. owned the plant and established and
maintained an employee benefits plan called the Pension Plan
for Hourly Bargaining Unit Employees of Amfac Foods, Inc.
(“Prior Amfac Plan”). Michael earned benefits
under the Prior Amfac Plan from 1974 to 1988.
1988, Amfac Foods, Inc. terminated the Prior Amfac Plan
following the sale of its outstanding common stock. The
Pension Plan for Hourly Bargaining Unit Employees of
Lamb-Weston, Inc. (“Lamb-Weston Plan”) replaced
the Prior Amfac Plan. Relevant here, the Lamb-Weston Plan
vested service credit to employees who earned employment
credit under the Prior Amfac Plan. Michael earned benefits
under the Lamb-Weston Plan from 1988 to 2014.
2014, the Lamb-Weston Plan merged with the ConAgra Plan. The
portion of the ConAgra Plan resulting from this merger
(“Bargaining Unit Plan”) provides “pension
benefits to participants who work or have worked for ConAgra
and previously worked for Lamb-Weston, Inc. and/or Amfac
Foods, Inc.” Dkt. 1, ¶ 17. The Bargaining Unit
Plan contains a sample calculation (“Benefit
Formula”) with a 35-year service cap (“35-Year
Cap”). The 35-Year Cap only calculates “the last
35 years” of an employee's service and disregards
employment service (“Disregarded Service”) beyond
35 years. Thus, in Michael's situation, seven years of
her 42 years of employment were classified as Disregarded
Service under the Bargaining Unit Plan.
2016, Michael concluded her employment at Lamb-Weston and
began receiving pension benefit payments shortly thereafter.
However, Michael believed that her payments were less than
the amount due under the ConAgra Plan. On July 20, 2017,
Michael filed a claim with the Administrative Committee
claiming that the 35-Year Cap was misapplied to her benefits
calculations. Specifically, she claimed that reducing her
benefits by all the retirement income accrued and paid under
the Prior Amfac Plan, including retirement income accrued
during her seven years of Disregarded Service (i.e. 1975 to
1981), was an excessive subtraction under the ConAgra Plan.
September 13, 2017, Michael received written notice from Ryan
Egan, Vice President of Human Resources for ConAgra Brands,
Inc., that the Administrative Committee denied her claim. The
basis for the denial was that “the number of years of
service under the Prior [Amfac] Plan does not impact the
[35-Year Cap]” under the Bargaining Unit Plan, and her
benefits were calculated correctly. Dkt. 1, ¶ 34.
thereafter, Michael filed an appeal with the Appeals
Committee, questioning the application of the 35-Year Cap to
her benefits and other employees similarly situated. Michael,
again, received written notice from Mr. Egan that the
committee denied her appeal because the subtractions to her
benefits calculation were “properly applied in
accordance” with the Prior Amfac Plan. Id. at
18, 2018, Michael filed her Complaint seeking to recover
employment benefits on behalf of herself and other employees
similarly situated. On August 21, 2018, the Court entered an
order granting a stipulation that Michael had “until
August 31, 2018 to make a decision and notify Defendants
regarding whether she [would] voluntarily amend her
Complaint.” Dkt. 4. The Court established a September
10, 2018, deadline for Michael “to file an amended
complaint.” Id. Michael did not amend her
complaint, and Defendants filed their Motion for More
Definite Statement on October 10, 2018. Dkt. 5.
12(e) allows a party to move for a more definite statement of
a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but
which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot
reasonably prepare a response. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e).
12(e) has a specific and limited purpose and is only used
when a complaint fails to meet the minimal pleading standards
that put the defendant fairly on notice. F.R.C.P. 12(e). A
motion for a more definite statement is a tool that a party
may employ when a complaint is so general that the defendant
cannot reasonably prepare the required response. Sagan v.
Apple Computer, Inc., 874 F.Supp. 1072, 1077
(C.D. Cal. 1994). Thus, Rule 12(e) focuses on the pleading
and not the merits of any claim; it ...