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5th Cir. – Failure to Provide Documents

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  • 5th Cir. – Failure to Provide Documents

    Here’s a new case out of the Fifth Circuit, Kimberly D. Hendrix v. Prudential Insurance Company of America; Wal-Mart Stores, Incorporated; Associates’ Health and Welfare Plan. In this matter, the plaintiff’s husband was an employee of Wal-Mart. His employment was terminated on July 11, 2012, giving him the right to convert his life insurance policy until August 11, 2012. Prudential provided this notice in writing to the decedent. On August 27, 2012, the plaintiff’s husband passed away. The court first finds that the plaintiff’s claim for failure to provide documents fails.

    Failure to Provide Documents. Under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1), qualifying individuals may collect penalties if “[a]ny administrator . . . fails or refuses to comply with a request for any information which such administrator is required by this subchapter to furnish.” (emphasis added). Mrs. Hendrix contends that Defendants failed to furnish the requisite documents despite her request. However, under the Wal-Mart Plan, the “Administrative Committee” is the administrator. None of the defendants in this suit is the administrator, and Mrs. Hendrix does not argue that she made a request for documents from the Administrative Committee. Accordingly, the district court correctly determined that Mrs. Hendrix failed to state a claim for penalties. See Bannistor v. Ullman, 287 F.3d 394, 407 (5th Cir. 2002).

    With respect to Prudential, to the extent Mrs. Hendrix attempts to state a claim that Prudential violated 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1(h)(2)(iii), she does not plead that Prudential failed to provide her copies of the administrative record from which Prudential based its decision to deny benefits. Prudential is not under a duty to provide the records of employment she seeks. Mrs. Hendrix’s conclusory alter-ego argument also fails.

    Finally, Mrs. Hendrix’s claim that she is entitled to equitable relief under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) for the failure to produce documents also fails. Equitable relief is normally unavailable under ERISA “where Congress elsewhere provided adequate relief for a beneficiary’s injury.” Vanity Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489, 515 (1996). Here, Congress provided a statutory framework for the production of documents that includes a provision for penalties if the administrator fails to comply. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1); see also Tolson v. Avondale Indus., Inc., 141 F.3d 604, 610 (5th Cir. 1998) (“Because Tolson has adequate relief available for [a different subsection of 29 U.S.C. § 1132], relief through the application of section 1132(a)(3) would be inappropriate.”). Mrs. Hendrix is thus not entitled to equitable relief on her failure to produce documents claim.
    The court also finds that Prudential’s determination that the decedent failed to convert his life insurance policy within the applicable deadline was not arbitrary and capricious. The opinion is attached below.
    Attached Files