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Dapron v. Spire Missouri Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 27, 2018

HARRY DAPRON, Plaintiff,
v.
SPIRE MISSOURI, INC., and LACLEDE GAS COMPANY EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT PLAN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN M. BODENHAUSEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Harry Dapron's (“Dapron”) Motion for Discovery (ECF No. 16). Defendants Spire Missouri, Inc. f/k/a Laclede Gas Company (“Spire”) and Laclede Gas Company Employees' Retirement Plan (“Plan”) (collectively “Defendants”) have filed a response in opposition and the issues are fully briefed. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Dapron's motion for discovery.

         This case arises under the Employee Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §1001, et seq.. Dapron seeks to attempt to recover benefits under an employee retirement plan and for breach of fiduciary duty. Dapron seeks alternative relief both for the wrongful denial of disability benefits claim under ERISA § 502(a)((1)(3) (Count I) and for equitable relief for breach of fiduciary duty claim under ERISA § 502(a)(3) (Count II). Spire denied Dapron's claim for disability benefits because he did not “apply for Disability Retirement benefits in connection with [his] termination.” (Complaint, ECF No. at ¶ 35)

         In the Complaint, Dapron alleges that Defendants breached their fiduciary duty by failing “to provide the information necessary to ensure [Dapron] understood his rights despite his condition [disabling mental illness impairing his judgment]. This silence allowed [Dapron's] delusions to mislead him for years which prevented him from applying for the benefits he was owed until 2016.” (Complaint, ECF No. at ¶¶ 47-48) Defendants deny that they owed a fiduciary duty to Dapron. Defendants assert an affirmative defense denying liability for breach of fiduciary duty because the Plan cannot be a fiduciary. Defendants also assert that any breach of fiduciary claim arising from events occurring in 2010 is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Defendants further assert that Spire, as employer and as plan sponsor, did not act in a fiduciary capacity, and the Plan cannot be a fiduciary and thus Defendants cannot be liable for breach of fiduciary duty. (Defendants' Amended Joint and Separate Answer, ECF No. 20, at 10 ¶¶ 2-3)

         1. Background

         Dapron alleges that beginning in 2009, he started experiencing mental health issues that impacted his ability to work and function. (Complaint, ECF No. at ¶ 8) In September 2009, Dapron was hospitalized at St. Anthony's Hospital for psychiatric treatment of acute psychosis, paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions. (Id. at ¶ 9) After being discharged on October 2, 2009, Dapron returned to work. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11)

         On February 22, 2010, Dapron was readmitted to St. Anthony's Hospital and kept under voluntary observation until discharged on February 24, 2010. (Id. at ¶ 12)

         Dapron alleges that his employment was terminated on March 2, 2010.[1] (Id. at ¶ 13)

         On March 24, 2010, the police returned Dapron to St. Anthony's Hospital, and he was involuntarily transferred to St. Anthony's Behavioral Health Unit for treatment of his schizophrenia. (Id. at ¶ 14) On March 31, 2010, Dapron was discharged and released to an intensive outpatient program. (Id. at ¶ 15) After his discharge, Dapron became intermittently homeless and his schizophrenia went untreated. (Id. at ¶ 16)

         In April, 2011, Dapron returned to St. Anthony's Hospital where he received treatment for acute psychosis and chronic schizophrenia but he returned to his intermittent homelessness. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-18)

         On November 30, 2011, Dapron sought treatment at Missouri Baptist Medical Center and was diagnosed with acute psychosis and delusional disorder. (Id. at ¶ 19)

         On December 21, 2011, an emergency room doctor at Barnes Hospital involuntarily committed Dapron for 96 hours with full precautions, (Id. at ¶ 21)

         On March 4, 2012, Dapron filled out a social security application, alleging that he suffers from paranoia and poor social interaction and needs assistance caring for himself. (Id., at ¶ 23) The Social Security Administration determined that Dapron's mental illness left him disabled no later than February 20, 2010. (Id. at ¶ 24)

         Between February 11, 2013, and July 2016, Dr. Jeffrey Pevnick treated Dapron twenty-seven times for depression and schizophrenia with delusions and auditory hallucinations. (Id. at ¶ 26)

         On May 16, 2016, Dapron filed for his disability retirement benefits with Laclede Gas Company. (Id. at ¶ 28) On June 20, 2016, the Retirement Board, the plan administrator for the Plan, denied benefits because Dapron did not “apply for Disability Retirement benefits in connection with [his] termination.”[2] (Id. at ¶¶ 29, 35, Adm. Rec. at 412) The Retirement Board found that “[Dapron's] employment with Laclede Gas Company terminated on or about March 2, 2010, and [his] application for Disability Retirement benefits did not occur until on or about May 16, 2016. [Dapron] did not apply for Disability Retirement benefits in connection with [his] termination. Therefore, [his] claim for Disability Retirement benefits is hereby denied." (Adm. Rec. at 412) Thereafter, Dapron appealed the Defendants' decision to deny disability benefits, contending the decision was arbitrary and capricious. His appeal was denied. (Id. at ¶¶ 30, 42)

         Dapron alleges that Defendants are fiduciaries, and they “failed to provide information necessary to ensure [Dapron] understood his rights despite his condition. This silence allowed [Dapron's] delusions to mislead him for years which prevented him from applying for the benefits that he was owed until 2016.”[3] (Id. at ¶¶ 46, 48)

         II. Motion for Discovery and Responsive Briefs Thereto

         In their Joint Proposed Scheduling Plan, counsel included the following paragraph summarizing their disagreement ...


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