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Filleti v. AOL, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 22, 2019

JOHN FILLETI, Plaintiff,
v.
AOL, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff John Filleti filed this action against Defendant AOL, Inc. (“AOL”)[1] seeking unpaid wages and benefits arising out of his work for AOL while misclassified as an independent contractor. [ECF No. 1-2]. AOL moved to dismiss Count I of the complaint, which alleges that Mr. Filleti was misclassified as an independent contractor, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [ECF No. 11]. For the reasons set forth below, AOL's partial motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         The following facts are drawn from the complaint. The Court takes the well-pleaded allegations as true in evaluating the motion to dismiss. See Ruivo v. Wells Fargo Bank, 766 F.3d 87, 90 (1st Cir. 2014). In early 2016, Mr. Filleti was contacted by AOL regarding work as a recruiter. [ECF No. 1-2 ¶ 5]. He accepted an offer to work as a full-time recruiter for at least six months and ultimately provided services for AOL from April 2016 to November 2016 and again from April 2017 through June 2017. [Id. ¶¶ 2, 5]. Between stints at AOL, he worked as a recruiter for another company. [Id. ¶¶ 11-13].

         Before he started work for AOL, Mr. Filleti was told that he would be paid through an AOL vendor and was directed to enter into a contract with the vendor. [Id. ¶ 7]. AOL was involved in establishing the key terms and conditions of this contract. [Id.] AOL also provided Mr. Filleti with a company badge, email address, laptop, and phone line. [Id. ¶ 6]. During the time that Mr. Filleti provided services to AOL, he was paid a flat rate per hour and typically worked about 50 hours per week, though he was pressured to report 40 hours or less each week. [Id. ¶ 8]. During this same time, AOL offered a range of benefits to its employees, including “traditional benefits” such as paid time off and “modern forms of benefits” such as discounts or other amenities. [Id. ¶ 10]. AOL terminated Mr. Filleti in June 2017. [Id. ¶ 13].

         B. Procedural History

         On January 31, 2018, Mr. Filleti filed a complaint in the Superior Court of Suffolk County alleging five counts: a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 148B (Count I); a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 148 (Count II); a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, § 1A (Count III); breach of contract (Count IV); and, promissory estoppel (Count V). [ECF No. 1-2]. AOL removed the case to this Court on March 20, 2018. [ECF No. 1]. On March 27, 2018, AOL filed an answer, [ECF No. 10], and a partial motion to dismiss, [ECF No. 11]. On March 29, 2018, Mr. Filleti opposed the partial motion to dismiss, [ECF No. 14], and on April 16, 2018, AOL replied, [ECF No. 18].

         II. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

         On a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts, analyze those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff's theory, and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. United States ex rel. Hutcheson v. Blackstone Med., Inc., 647 F.3d 377, 383 (1st Cir. 2011). The facts alleged must be sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” A.G. ex rel. Maddox v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 80 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Dismissal is appropriate if a plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts entitling him to relief. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Ahmed v. Rosenblatt, 118 F.3d 886, 890 (1st Cir. 1997).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In its partial motion to dismiss, AOL argues that Count I, which alleges that Mr. Filleti was misclassified as an independent contractor, is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., to the extent that Mr. Filleti seeks to recover the value of employee benefits. [ECF No. 11 at 2].[2] ERISA “supersede[s] any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan” covered by ERISA. 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). A conflict preemption analysis under ERISA requires the court to address two questions: “(1) whether the plan at issue is an ‘employee benefit plan' and (2) whether the cause of action ‘relates to' this employee benefit plan.” McMahon v. Digital Equip. Corp., 162 F.3d 28, 36 (1st Cir. 1998) (quoting Rosario-Cordero v. Crowley Towing & Transp. Co., 46 F.3d 120, 124 (1st Cir. 1995)).

         A. The Plans at Issue Include “Employee Benefit Plans”

         The first step of the ERISA conflict preemption analysis is to determine whether any plans offered by AOL and at issue in this action meet the criteria of an “employee benefit plan, ” as defined by ERISA. ERISA defines “employee benefit plans” to mean an “employee welfare benefit plan, ” an “employee pension benefit plan, ” or a plan that is both. 29 U.S.C. § 1002(3). ERISA further defines “employee welfare benefit plan” as “any plan, fund, or program . . . established or maintained by an employer . . . to the extent that such plan, fund, or program was established or is maintained for the purpose of providing for its participants or their beneficiaries, through the purchase of insurance or otherwise, (A) medical, surgical, or hospital care or benefits, or benefits in the event ...


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