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Lebahn v. Owens

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

February 19, 2016

TRENT LEBAHN, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
ELOISE OWENS, former pension consultant for the National Farmers Union Pension Committee, Defendant - Appellee

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. (D.C. No. 6:14-CV-01001-CM-JPO).

Randall K. Rathbun, Depew Gillen Rathbun & McInteer, LC, Wichita, Kansas, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Alan L. Rupe, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP, Wichita, Kansas, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before GORSUCH, MURPHY, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

McHUGH, Circuit Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Trent Lebahn sued Eloise Owens, a consultant for Mr. Lebahn's employee pension plan, for negligently misrepresenting the amount of his monthly retirement benefits. The district court dismissed Mr. Lebahn's negligent-misrepresentation claim, concluding it was preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Mr. Lebahn then filed an untimely Rule 59 motion, arguing preemption did not apply because Ms. Owens was not a fiduciary of the pension plan. The district court construed the untimely motion as one under Rule 60(b) and denied relief, reasoning that Mr. Lebahn's argument regarding Ms. Owens's fiduciary status had been raised too late. Mr. Lebahn now appeals.

Because we lack jurisdiction to consider Mr. Lebahn's challenge to the district court's underlying judgment, our review is limited to the district court's denial of relief under Rule 60(b). Mr. Lebahn has not demonstrated the district court abused its discretion in denying relief under Rule 60(b), and we therefore affirm the district court's judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

Trent Lebahn was a sales manager for National Farmers Union Insurance Company/Midwest Agency (Midwest).[1] In early 2012, Mr. Lebahn began to consider early retirement. He contacted Eloise Owens, a pension consultant for the National Farmers Union Uniform Pension Plan (the Plan), to determine if the benefits available to him under the Plan would be adequate to support his family if he retired early. Ms. Owens calculated Mr. Lebahn's early-retirement benefits at $8,444.18 per month. Mr. Lebahn questioned the accuracy of Ms. Owens's calculations, as the resulting monthly benefit was substantially greater than the amount reflected in Mr. Lebahn's annual statements from the Plan, but Ms. Owens and others working in the Plan's pension department confirmed that her calculations were correct.

Mr. Lebahn elected to retire, and as represented, he received $8,444.18 per month in retirement benefits from July 2012 through March 2013. But in March 2013, a representative of the Plan contacted Mr. Lebahn and informed him he was being overpaid. According to the Plan representatives, Mr. Lebahn should have been receiving only $3,653.78 in monthly benefits and now owed the Plan $43,113.60 he had received in overpayments. Upon learning that his retirement benefit was much lower than represented, Mr. Lebahn attempted to return to work. But his position with Midwest was no longer available, and the only available work would have required him to move across state or to spend significant time travelling.

In early 2014, Mr. Lebahn filed this action in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. He alleged a claim of negligent misrepresentation against Ms. Owens for incorrectly calculating his monthly retirement benefit and inducing him to retire early in reliance on that calculation. Ms. Owens moved to dismiss Mr. Lebahn's complaint, arguing his common-law negligent-misrepresentation claim was preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Mr. Lebahn opposed that motion, contending his claim did not " relate to" an ERISA plan because he sought recovery only from Ms. Owens for the economic loss caused by her negligent misrepresentations, not recovery of additional benefits under the plan.

The district court ruled in favor of Ms. Owens, concluding Mr. Lebahn's claims related to the Plan and, therefore, ERISA preempted his common-law claim. Specifically, the district court determined Ms. Owens's allegedly negligent conduct--her miscalculation of Mr. Lebahn's benefits--constituted " administration" of the Plan; Mr. Lebahn's damages would be based on a calculation of potential Plan benefits; and " but for the Plan, plaintiff would have no claim--making the Plan itself a critical factor in the case." The district court therefore granted Ms. Owens's motion and dismissed Mr. Lebahn's complaint, entering judgment on June 13, 2014.

On July 14, 2014, Mr. Lebahn filed a " Motion for Reconsideration," seeking relief under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In that motion, Mr. Lebahn argued for the first time that ERISA preemption did not apply because Ms. Owens was a third-party consultant rather than a fiduciary of the Plan. Mr. Lebahn contended that " [t]he fact that the defendant is a third party consultant was overlooked by [the district court] in its ruling" and that the ...


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