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Williams v. Walmart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 25, 2019

WILEY WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
WALMART STORES EAST, LP, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Until he was fired in June 2017, Plaintiff Wiley Williams worked for Defendant Walmart Stores East, LP, for almost twenty years. Williams insists that Walmart abruptly fired him in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Because Williams fails to allege that he exhausted all of his administrative remedies before filing this action, his ERISA claim is due to be dismissed. But it also appears that a more detailed complaint could state a plausible ERISA claim, so the court will not dismiss Williams's claim with prejudice.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court has federal-question subject-matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties do not dispute personal jurisdiction or venue.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Wilborn v. Jones, 761 Fed.Appx. 908, 910 (11th Cir. 2019) (per curiam) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. This standard “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that [the] defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Under Rule 12(e), a defendant “may move for a more definite statement” of a complaint that “is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). “The motion is intended to provide a remedy for an unintelligible pleading, rather than a vehicle for obtaining greater detail.” Faulk v. Home Oil Co., 173 F.R.D. 311, 313 (M.D. Ala. 1997) (cleaned up). It “is not to be employed as a substitute for pre-trial discovery.” Herman v. Cont'l Grain Co., 80 F.Supp.2d 1290, 1297 (M.D. Ala. 2000).

         III. BACKGROUND

         Wiley Williams started working at the Walmart store in Enterprise, Alabama, in August 1997.[1] He kept working there for roughly two months shy of twenty years. For fifteen of those years, he was an Assembler. He never got any disciplinary write-ups or coaching sessions - not once in nearly two decades. To the contrary, he was “Associate of the Month” six times. (Doc. # 1, at 2-3.) Because of his long tenure, Williams was “grandfathered-in” to a plan that allowed him to get health, dental, and life insurance benefits for working twenty-eight hours a week. New employees, by contrast, had to work forty hours a week to get benefits. (Doc. # 1, at 5, 7.) What's more, after his twenty-year work anniversary in August 2017, Williams “would have been entitled to greater vested benefits.” (Doc. # 1, at 5, 7.) But he never got them.

         In June 2017, a supervisor asked Williams to help him install a beam in a steel shelf in the back of the store. Williams obliged. But when Brian Retherford (the shift manager) saw the men working, he ordered Williams to “get down” off a scissor lift. (Doc. # 1, at 3.) Mylan Hicks (the assistant store manager) then called Williams into a meeting with Retherford. In that meeting, Retherford told Williams that he was “not supposed to be in the steel.” (Doc. # 1, at 3.) Williams answered that he had to get “in the steel” to install the beam, yet Retherford fired Williams on the spot, purportedly for violating workplace safety rules. (Doc. # 1, at 3.) At the time, Hicks was twenty-four years old, Retherford was thirty-three, and Williams was sixty-four. (Doc. # 1, at 2-3, 7.)

         After receiving a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Doc. # 1-1), Williams filed a two-count complaint against Walmart in October 2018. In Count One, he claims Walmart discriminated against him based on his age. (Doc. # 1, at 5-6.) In Count Two, he claims Walmart interfered with his employee benefits in violation of § 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Pub. L. No. 93-406, tit. I, § 510, 88 Stat. 829, 895 (1974) (codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. § 1140 (2012)). (Doc. # 1, at 7-8.)

         Walmart moves to dismiss Count Two for failure to state a claim - or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement. (Doc. # 7.) Williams opposes the motion to dismiss but does not seek leave to file an amended complaint. (See Doc. # 13.) Walmart filed a reply in support of its motion. (Doc. # 16.) The motion is now ripe.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         ERISA governs employee benefit plans, and § 510 of ERISA prevents anyone from interfering with a ...


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