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Saunders v. Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

December 2, 2014





Plaintiff Susan Saunders ("Plaintiff") initiated this action against Defendants Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston ("Liberty") and J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc. ("J.C. Penney"), asserting violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). (Doc. 1). J.C. Penney moves to dismiss on the ground that, in the disability plan at issue ("the Plan"), J.C. Penney is merely the Plan Sponsor and not the Plan Administrator and, therefore, it is not a proper defendant. (Docs. 11 and 11-1). Plaintiff responds that she has alleged J.C. Penney is the Plan Administrator so the Court cannot dismiss J.C. Penney without giving ten-days notice it is converting the motion to an MSJ. (Doc. 14). J.C. Penney replies the Court may rely on an undisputed document that is central to the complaint and therefore it is entitled to dismissal based on the summary description of the Plan ("SPD") attached to its motion. (Doc. 15).


On November 5, 2014, the magistrate judge entered a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending that the motion to dismiss be GRANTED (Doc. 18). In that document, the parties were specifically of their right to object within fourteen days from the date of the R&R. ( Id. at 6.). No objections were filed and the time to do so has passed. Therefore, the R&R (doc. 18) and motion to dismiss (doc. 11) are before the undersigned.[1]


After conducting a "careful and complete" review of the findings and recommendations, a district judge may accept, reject, or modify the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) ("A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge."); Williams v. Wainwright, 681 F.2d 732 (11th Cir. 1982) (quoting Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404, 408 (5th Cir. 1982), overruled on other grounds by Douglass v. United Services Auto. Ass'n, 79 F.3d 1415 (5th Cir. 1996)).[2] The district judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

A district judge "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This requires that the district judge "give fresh consideration to those issues to which specific objection has been made by a party." Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 512 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing H.R. Rep. No. 94-1609, 94th Cong., 2nd Sess., reprinted in 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News 6162, 6163). In contrast, those portions of the R&R to which no objection is made need only be reviewed for clear error. Macort v. Prem, Inc., 208 Fed.App'x. 781, 784 (11th Cir. 2006).[3]

"Neither the Constitution nor the statute requires a district judge to review, de novo, findings and recommendations that the parties themselves accept as correct." United States v. Woodard, 387 F.3d 1329, 1334 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003)). It is incumbent upon the parties to timely raise any objections that they may have regarding a magistrate judge's findings contained in a report and recommendation, as the failure to do so subsequently waives or abandons the issue, even if such matter was presented at the magistrate judge level. See, e.g., United States v. Pilati, 627 F.3d 1360 at 1365 (11th Cir. 2010) ("While Pilati raised the issue of not being convicted of a qualifying offense before the magistrate judge, he did not raise this issue in his appeal to the district court. Thus, this argument has been waived or abandoned by his failure to raise it on appeal to the district court.").


A. Consideration of the SPD Does Not Require Conversion of the Motion To Dismiss to a Motion for Summary Judgment

The Magistrate Judge states that Plaintiff's sole opposition to the Motion To Dismiss is that because J.C. Penney has attached a copy of the SPD to the Motion, [4] the Motion cannot properly be considered without being converted to a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 18 at 1, 3, 4). Although the Plaintiff has not objected to this statement, the undersigned finds that it is not accurate. In her three-page opposition, the Plaintiff also opposed the Motion To Dismiss on the basis that "Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that J.C. Penny [sic] administers the plan, thus J.C. Penny [sic] is a proper defendant." (Doc. 14 at p. 3).

The undersigned finds Plaintiff's argument that attachment of the SPD requires conversion of J.C. Penney's motion to a motion for summary judgment to be contrary to well-established law of this Circuit. See Bickley v. Caremark Rx, Inc., 461 F.3d 1325, 1329 n. 7 (11th Cir.2006) ("where the plaintiff refers to certain documents in the complaint and those documents are central to the plaintiffs claim, then the Court may consider the documents part of the pleading for purposes of Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal") (quoting Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir.1997)). Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge's ...

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