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Duncan v. TYCO Fire Products LP

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

July 5, 2018




         The court has before it the November 14, 2017 motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Tyco Fire Products, LP (“Tyco”). (Doc. 25). Pursuant to the court's initial order and orders dated December 11, 2017, and December 20, 2017, the motion was under submission as of January 16, 2018. (Docs. 17, 33, 35). After consideration of the briefs and evidence, the motion is due to be granted for the following reasons.


         Tyco manufactures water-based fire suppression system components and ancillary building construction products. (Doc. 27-6 at 1). Plaintiff Matthew Duncan was hired in February 2012, at the Tyco facility in Anniston, Alabama. (Doc. 27-2 at 6; Doc. 27-3 at 13-14). Duncan worked as an hourly employee in the finishing department. (Doc. 27-1 at 28).

         A. Tyco Benefits and Policies

         When he was hired, Duncan participated in orientation, which included the benefits enrollment process. (Id. at 3). Tyco employees select their own benefit elections on the website (Id.). Tyco provides employees access to a computer at the Anniston facility, where they complete their benefit elections and enrollments. (Id.). Duncan was given the paperwork discussing the available benefits, and he completed his benefit elections on the computer at the facility. (Doc. 27-1 at 24). Duncan elected to receive $30, 000 in coverage for his wife under the spouse/domestic partner supplemental life insurance policy. (Doc. 27-4 at 15; Doc. 24-5 at 11).

         Benefits are administered through the Tyco EmployeeAccess group and not at the plant level. (Doc. 27-6 at 6). Employees can contact or EmployeeAccess at a toll-free number with any questions about their benefits. (Id. at 3-4). Additionally, plan documents are available at (Id. at 35).

         As part of the benefits enrollment process, Duncan provided a contact address to receive his benefit notifications. (Doc. 27-6 at 34). Duncan provided the same address in his contact information during orientation. (Doc. 27-1 at 28). Duncan has lived at that address for approximately ten years and lived at the address at the time of his deposition. (Id. at 4). An employee can change the address for benefits notification through the website or by contacting EmployeeAccess at the toll-free number. (Doc. 27-4 at 11; Doc. 27-6 at 4). Duncan never made any changes to his address.

         Tyco has a military leave of absence policy providing for the possibility of compensation and continued benefits for a Tyco employee on active military service. (Doc. 27-4 at 10-11; Doc. 27-6 at 4, 8-16). The policy was available to Duncan with all the other plan documents on (Id. at 4). The military leave of absence policy in place at the time of Duncan's military leave became effective on January 31, 2010.[2] (Id.; Doc. 27-4 at 9-10).

         The applicable military leave of absence policy provides a Tyco employee with “differential military leave pay” while serving on military duty if the employee meets the eligibility requirements to receive the pay. (Doc. 27-6 at 4). To receive “differential military leave pay” an employee's military pay must be less than his Tyco pay. (Id. at 4, 9). Specifically, the policy states, “[In the event that Military Earnings are greater than the employee's Regular Rate of Pay, no Differential Military Leave Pay will be paid to the employee.” (Id. at 9). If an employee is not eligible for differential military leave pay, the employee will be provided with unpaid time off for a military leave in accordance with USERRA and governing state laws. (Id. at 11-12, 14-15).

         The military leave of absence policy also provides eligible employees on active duty the ability to continue welfare benefits while on active military leave. (Doc. 27-5 at 9). Specifically relating to supplemental life insurance benefits, the policy states:

While on Active Military Duty Leave of Absence, all welfare benefits offered by the Company in which the employee was participating while an active employee of the Company may continue as long as all required employee contributions are satisfied during the Active Military Leave of Absence, either through withholding from Differential Military Pay, or through direct payments by the employee if there is either insufficient or no Military Differential Pay from which to withhold all required employee contributions.


         B. Duncan's Military Leave

         Duncan actively served in the military from 1981 until 1995 and then joined the National Guard. (Doc. 27-1 at 4). On March 11, 2013, while working at Tyco, Duncan received orders to report for overseas deployment on June 20, 2013. (Id. at 40; Doc. 27-3 at 31). Duncan made $12.52 an hour at the time he went on military leave, which equates to approximately $2, 000 per month. (Doc. 27-6 at 4-5). His military pay was in excess of $6, 000 per month. (Doc. 27-1 at 6). Because his military pay was greater than his rate of pay at Tyco, Duncan did not receive any payments from Tyco while on military leave. (Doc. 27-6 at 4).

         Because Duncan was not making any wages while on military leave, he was responsible for paying his portion of premiums, including the premiums for his spouse/domestic partner supplemental life insurance policy. (Doc. 27-5 at 9). In accordance with their standard policy, Tyco sent two direct payment invoices to Duncan regarding his payment obligations to the address he provided when he elected his benefits.[3] (Doc. 27-6 at 34, 39-44). The first invoice was dated August 6, 2013, and the second was dated September 6, 2013. (Id.). The September 6, 2013 invoice advised Duncan benefits coverage would end retroactively on the last day of the month for which the full premium was paid if payment was not received by October 1, 2013. (Id. at 43). Duncan did not make the payments requested in the August and September invoices. (Id. at 35). On October 2, 2018, Tyco sent Duncan a notice of benefit termination. (Id. at 45). The notice stated his coverage was cancelled for nonpayment effective July 1, 2013, the end of the last month in which Duncan paid his premiums. (Id.).

         During Duncan's deployment, his wife battled cancer and passed away on February 26, 2014. (Doc. 1 at 4; Doc. 27-1 at 18). Duncan returned from active service in May 2014 and resumed his same position at Tyco. (Doc. 27-1 at 25; Doc. 27-6 at 6). When he returned, Duncan inquired about the insurance proceeds for the spouse/domestic partner life insurance policy. (Doc. 27-6 at 6). Tyco submitted a claim for the benefits on Duncan's behalf but was told the policy lapsed due to nonpayment of premiums. (Id. at 36). Additionally, Duncan called the Tyco EmployeeAccess number after his return and was told the insurer declined payment under the policy as it had lapsed because he did not pay the premiums. (Doc. 27-1 at 22-23).


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) requires the non-moving party to go ...

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