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Jones v. General Electric Co.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 18, 2019

FRANKLYN K. JONES, Plaintiff
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         Franklyn K. Jones, the self-represented plaintiff, filed suit against a host of defendants. They include his former employer, General Electric Company (“GE”), as well as Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”); Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. (“Sedgwick”); Bon Secours Mercy Health, Inc. (“Bon Secours”); Yoh Services, LLC (“Yoh”); and thirteen individuals: Pierre Feraud, Pierre De-La-Borderie, Cinthia Arcuri, Ivonne M. Basora, Dixie Chavez, Caroline Jennings, Betty Ansel, Allison M. Lue, Christopher Murray, Phillip Mike Hall, Jim Brault, Dennis Callmie, and Kelly Ayanna. ECF 42 (“Amended Complaint”).[1]

         The Amended Complaint is 121 pages in length. Plaintiff appended an additional 88 pages of exhibits. ECF 42-1 to ECF 42-6. And, the Amended Complaint incorporates by reference plaintiff's 266-page initial Complaint. ECF 1-3 (the “Complaint”).[2] The Amended Complaint is difficult to decipher. But, as best the Court can tell, the gravamen of plaintiff's suit is that GE unlawfully terminated him on the basis of his disability, national origin, and age, and he was wrongfully denied disability benefits under GE's long-term disability plan, which is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), as amended 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001, et seq.

         The proverbial “kitchen sink” Amended Complaint asserts the following causes of action: “Defamation By Way of Libel & Slander” (Count A); “Torturous [sic] Interference With Existing Contracts” (Count B); Aiding & Abetting (Count C); Conspiracy (Count D); “Ratification” (Count E); “Retraction” (Count F); “EEOC Violation, National Origin” (Count G); “EEOC Violation, Disability” (Count H); “EEOC Violation, Disability” (Count I); “18 USC 1589 violation Forced Labor” (Count J); “Abuse of Process in each respective Venue” (Count K); “Maryland Code, Insurance Title 27 - Unfair Trade Practices And Other Prohibited Practices” (Count L); numerous violations of ERISA (Counts M-I to M-VIII); and a hodge-podge of federal criminal statutes (Count N). See ECF 42 at 2-3; see Id. at 44-106.

         All of the defendants have moved to dismiss; six motions are pending. First, Arcuri, Basora, Feraud, and De-La-Borderie have filed a motion to dismiss (ECF 46), pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), 12(b)(2), 12(b)(5), and 12(b)(6), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 46-1) (the “Arcuri Motion”) and one exhibit. ECF 46-2. Second, GE filed a motion to dismiss, pursuant to Rules 8(a) and 12(b)(6) (ECF 47), supported by a memorandum (47-1) (the “GE Motion”), and one exhibit. ECF 47-2. Third, Yoh and Jennings, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), have filed a motion to dismiss (ECF 48), supported by a memorandum (ECF 48-1) (the “Yoh Motion”) and one exhibit. ECF 48-2. Fourth, MetLife, Hall, Brault, Calmie, Ayanna, and Murray filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (ECF 52) (the “MetLife Motion”), supported by one exhibit. ECF 52-1. Fifth, Bon Secours filed a motion to dismiss under Rules 8 and 12(b)(6) (ECF 53), supported by a memorandum. ECF 53-1 (the “Bon Secours Motion”). And, sixth, Sedgwick, Ansel, and Lue have filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). ECF 54 (the “Sedgwick Motion”).

         Plaintiff opposes the motions. ECF 58 (“Opposition”). Defendants have replied. ECF 60; ECF 61; ECF 62; ECF 63; ECF 64.[3]

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the pending motions. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the motions. ECF 46; 47; ECF 48; ECF 52; 53 ECF 54.

         I. Background [4]

         A. Factual Background

         GE hired plaintiff on or about November 7, 2016, to serve as a Lead Repair Development Engineer for GE Grid Solutions. ECF 8-1, ¶ 2 (“Memorandum of Plaintiff”); ECF 8-4 (“GE Offer Letter”). The position was home-based, meaning plaintiff would work remotely from his home in Baltimore, Maryland. ECF 42 at 5. According to his GE Offer Letter, plaintiff reported to Pierre Feraud, the Senior Services Staff Manager at GE Grid Solutions. ECF 8-4. And, Cinthia Arcuri served as plaintiff's Human Resources Contact. Id.

         In December 2016, plaintiff became ill and was later diagnosed with stage II colon cancer. ECF 8-1, ¶ 3. On February 10, 2017, he was “approved for Short Term Income offered and administered by GE/Sedgwick.” Id. ¶ 9. During his treatment, plaintiff alleges that he began to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and depression. Id. ¶¶ 11-13.

         In late November 2017, and through mid-January 2018, plaintiff explored with Mr. Feraud, Mr. De-La-Borderie, Ms. Basora, and Ms. Arcuri the possibility of returning to work. ECF 8-14; ECF 8-15. During these conversations, plaintiff alleges that he requested that GE agree to a lifting restriction on his work and approve the use of a service dog. See ECF 1-3 at 170. In a conference call with GE on January 12, 2018, plaintiff alleges that he “was told that no accommodation would be made.” ECF 8-1, ¶ 28. Further, plaintiff alleges that GE told him that he would be terminated unless he produced a doctor's letter stating that he had no work restrictions. Id. GE terminated plaintiff in January or February of 2018. Id. (alleging discharge in January 2018); see ECF 17 (EEOC Charge) (alleging discharge in February 2018).

         Although GE no longer employed plaintiff, MetLife continued assessing whether plaintiff was eligible for long-term disability (“LTD”) benefits under the GE Long Term Disability Income Plan for Salaried Employees (“GE Plan”). ECF 8-1, ¶ 36. However, an issue arose as to whether plaintiff held a college degree, which was relevant to whether, according to MetLife's Labor Market Survey (“LMS”), he was totally disabled. Id. ¶ 37; see ECF 8-25. According to plaintiff, he received the following email on May 4, 2018, from MetLife employee Christopher Murray, ECF 8-25:

We took your educational information from the LTD application that you completed in order to receive benefits. You circled on the attached form that you had a college degree and that the highest grade completed was 16. That amounts to a Bachelor's Degree. Are you now indicating that this information that you provided to Metlife is untrue? Please provide an explanation for this information, as I will need to discuss with claims management team. We may need to conduct a 2nd Labor Market Survey.

         GE allegedly determined on May 23, 2018, that plaintiff did not qualify for LTD benefits because he was not “totally disabled” under terms of the GE Plan. ECF 8-8 (“Denial Letter”). GE explained to plaintiff that MetLife's first LMS determined that he was not disabled. Id. at 3. Because it was based on the assumption that plaintiff had a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, a second LMS was performed. Id. at 4. However, that analysis also determined that plaintiff had employment opportunities in his local labor market. Id. at 4. As a result, GE stated that “GE Long-Term Disability Income Benefits are no longer payable, ” and therefore it would close plaintiff's claim. Id. The Denial Letter informed plaintiff that he “ha[d] the right to bring [a] civil action under section 502(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 upon completion of two administrative appeals.” Id. at 5.

         Plaintiff appealed the denial, and the appeal was denied on June 8, 2018. ECF 8-9 (“First Denial Decision”). The First Denial Decision was signed by MetLife Appeals Specialist Mike Hall. Id. at 5. He stated, in part, id. at 4-5:

The labor Market Survey (LMS) found 12 employers in your area that had positions available that met your limitations/restrictions and provided commensurate wages. While you require a companion dog for travel, none of these positions required travel. Upon learning that an erroneous educational level had been used, the LMS vendor re-contacted the employers. Ten out of the twelve employers indicated that they would still consider you as a candidate without a Bachelor's degree due to your wealth of experience. Since the evidence available to us suggests that you are able to engage in other occupations, we cannot find that you remain totally disabled as defined by your Plan.

         You are now suggesting that your disabling impairment is PTSD. Absent any evidence regarding this disorder, we cannot determine whether this condition is totally disabling or results in any limitations.

         Plaintiff was again informed that he may “bring a civil action under Section 502(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 as amended, ” but only after he “exhaust[ed] [his] administrative appeal rights under the Plan.” Id. Plaintiff filed a second administrative appeal. See ECF 8-1, ¶ ¶ 14-15. In a letter dated February 12, 2019, MetLife reversed the first claim decision and reinstated plaintiff's disability benefits under the GE Plan. ECF 20-8 (Feb. 12, 2019 Letter).

         B. Procedural Background

         Mr. Jones filed the instant action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on December 12, 2018. ECF 1-3 (“Complaint”). The Complaint alleged employment discrimination, violations of ERISA, and various tort claims under Maryland law. ECF 1-3. On January 22, 2019, defendants GE, MetLife, Sedgwick, and Yoh timely removed the State action to this Court. ECF 1.

         Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on February 14, 2019. ECF 17 (“Charge”). In his Charge, plaintiff alleged, id. at 1:

I began my employment with the above-named Respondent in November 2016, as a Lead Repair Development Engineer. I was discharged in February 2018. I was not given a reason for the difference in treatment.
I believe I was discriminated against because of my national origin (American), age (52), and disabilities with respect to Hiring and Discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008.
Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff's Complaint. See ECF 18; ECF 20; ECF 21; ECF 24; ECF 26; ECF 28.

         In response, Mr. Jones filed a motion for the appointment of counsel and for an extension of time to respond to the motions to dismiss (ECF 39), supported by several exhibits. ECF 39-2 to ECF 39-11. He asserted that he needed counsel to articulate his claims and responses more clearly. ECF 39. Further, he maintained that appointment of counsel would result in the more efficient adjudication of this case. Id. at 2. In light of the six pending motions, he also requested a 90-day extension of the time to respond. Id. at 4.

         On March 13, 2019, the Court denied plaintiff's request for the appointment of counsel. ECF 41 at 1. However, the Court granted plaintiff's request for an extension of time, allowing him an additional ninety days to respond to defendants' motions. Id. at 2.

         Then, on April 5, 2019, the EEOC dismissed plaintiff's Charge. ECF 42-3. It said, id. at 2: “Having considered all the information provided by you, your charge was not timely filed with the EEOC.” On May 17, 2019, plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint instead of an opposition to the defense motions. In addition to re-asserting the claims lodged in the original Complaint against the same defendants, the Amended Complaint contains additional ERISA violations and asserts eighteen criminal law causes of action under Title 18 of the United States Code.

         As noted, defendants have moved to dismiss the Amendment Complaint. ECF 46; ECF 47; ECF 48; ECF 52; ECF 53; ECF 54.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Rule 12(b)(2)

         The Arcuri Motion, which moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, implicates Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). ECF 46-1. “[A] Rule 12(b)(2) challenge raises an issue for the court to resolve, generally as a preliminary matter.” Grayson v. Anderson, 816 F.3d 262, 267 (4th Cir. 2016). Under Rule 12(b)(2), the burden is “on the plaintiff ultimately to prove the existence of a ground for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.” Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989); see Grayson, 816 F.3d at 267.

         When “the existence of jurisdiction turns on disputed factual questions the court may resolve the [jurisdictional] challenge on the basis of a separate evidentiary hearing, or may defer ruling pending receipt at trial of evidence relevant to the jurisdictional question.” Combs, 886 F.2d at 676. In its discretion, a court may also permit discovery as to the jurisdictional issue. See Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 64 (4th Cir. 1993). However, neither discovery nor an evidentiary hearing is required in order for the ...


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