Judge Ezra Dismisses an ADEA Case, Giving the Plaintiff 30 Days to Plead Sufficient Facts to Show Causation

Quest v. Bandera County, No. 5:13-CV-506-DAE, slip op. (W.D. Tex. Dec. 26, 2013)(Ezra, J.)

Terminated from her position as Chief Deputy of Motor Vehicles by Bandera County’s elected Tax Assessor/Collector, who cited “a mistake on two title forms” as the reason for dismissal, Quest claimed her dismissal violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).  Slip op. at 1-2.  Bandera County filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, contending that (a) it was not an ADEA “employer” because the elected Tax Assessor/Collector was vested with hiring/firing authority, and (b) Quest had failed to adequately allege causation.  Id. at 5. 

The District Court noted that the ADEA’s statutory exception for “personal staff” of elected officials did not lend itself to Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal; “[t]he question whether a person or entity is an ‘employee’ or employer’ for purposes of the ADEA is a highly factual inquiry.”  Id. at 8.  The District Court sided with the County, however, on the adequacy of Quest’s causation allegations.  She alleged age discrimination, but she failed to allege any facts pointing to age as the cause for her dismissal.  Thus, the District Court dismissed Quest’s ADEA claim with leave to file an amended complaint within 30 days.  Id. at 13-16.

The Plaintiff Who Didn’t Watch Breaking Bad

Egger v. United States of America, No. EP-13-CV-34-KC, slip op. (W.D. Tex. Dec. 23, 2013)(Cardone, J.)

Egger alleged that her car was damaged when a DEA agent backed into it.  Slip op. at 1.  When the DEA offered $100, Egger sued the DEA agent in small claims/justice court.  Id.  The agent removed the case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1442, then the government moved to substitute itself for the DEA agent under the provisions of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-80.  Id. at 2.  Shortly after the District Court granted that motion, the government moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) on the grounds that Egger’s failure to exhaust her administrative remedies deprived the District Court of jurisdiction.  Id. at 2-3.  The District Court noted that the $100 the DEA offered was not a final denial of her claim and that the FTCA’s six-month waiting period for suit had not expired when Egger’s sued.  Id. at 3-5.  Therefore, under 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a), the District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the case under Rule 12(b)(1).

ERISA Claims Another Case

Slater v. Southwest Research Institute, No. SA-12-CV-1205-XR, slip op. (W.D. Tex. Dec. 23, 2013)(Rodriguez, J.)

This case centered on a Southwest Research Institute (SWR) researcher’s election to reduce his life insurance benefits from $500,000 to $100,000 two-and-a-half years before his death.  Dr. Slater made the election after a battle with brain cancer that left him with some memory loss.  Id. at 1-2.  His widow alleged that a year later, when she discovered the reduced death benefit, Dr. Slater had no recollection of making the change and was “visibly upset” by it.  Id. at 2. 

After the typical skirmishing over ERISA preemption, Dr. Skinner’s widow amended her complaint to assert that SWR breached its ERISA fiduciary duties to Dr. Skinner by (a) failing to oversee his benefit election, (b) failed to abide by the work restrictions his physician imposed, and (c) changing life insurance providers during the pendency of the Slaters’ ERISA appeal.  Id. at 5. 

ERISA imposes fiduciary duties on employers only to the extent they exercise discretionary authority with respect to a benefits program.  Slip op. at 4.  The District Court concluded that (a) the three areas Ms. Slater cited did not implicate any ERISA discretionary authority, and (b) lack of evidence and other legal principles precluded Ms. Slater’s claims.  Id. at 5-9.  Therefore, the District Court dismissed Ms. Slater’s claims by summary judgment.  Id. at 10.