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Newton v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

March 30, 2015

PAMELA A. NEWTON, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

R. DAVID PROCTOR, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Hartford Life And Accident Insurance Company's Motion to Dismiss Count II of Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. # 11). The matter has been fully briefed. (Docs. # 11, 13, 17, 20, and 21). For the reasons discussed below, the court concludes the motion is due to be denied, but Plaintiff must replead her allegations to remove shotgun pleading.

I. Background

Plaintiff Pamela Newton was a participant in an employee welfare benefit plan maintained by her former employer, The TJX Companies, Inc. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 5). Plaintiff alleges that she is disabled under the terms of the Plan, and argues Defendant Hartford wrongfully terminated her claim for long term disability benefits. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 34, 49-51). Plaintiff has asserted two claims under ERISA. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 50). Count One seeks benefits pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) based on the termination of her claim for disability benefits, and seeks to recover LTD benefits allegedly due under the Plan. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 49-51). Count Two is a claim for injunctive relief under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) and (a)(3) and for penalties under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c). (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 52-59). Count Two also states a breach of fiduciary duty claim. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 54). Defendant's Motion only seeks dismissal of Count Two. (Doc. # 11).

II. Standard of Review

In most instances, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that a complaint provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Nevertheless, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). The complaint must include enough facts "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Pleadings that contain nothing more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" do not meet Rule 8 standards, nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon "labels or conclusions" or "naked assertion[s]" without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. To be plausible on its face, the claim must contain enough facts that "allow [] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

The court must construe pleadings broadly and resolve inferences in a plaintiff's favor. Levine v. World Fin. Network Nat'l Bank, 437 F.3d 1118, 1120 (11th Cir. 2006). However, the court need not accept inferences that are unsupported by the facts asserted in the complaint. Snow v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006). Ultimately, the well-pleaded complaint must present a reasonable inference from the facts it alleges that show a defendant is liable. Reese v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams, LLP, 678 F.3d 1211, 1215 (11th Cir. 2012). To survive Defendants' Motion, the allegations of Plaintiffs' second amended counterclaim must permit the court based on its "judicial experience and common sense... to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

III. Analysis

Defendant argues that Count Two of Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed because (1) Plaintiff cannot state a viable claim for statutory penalties against Hartford, and (2) her breach of fiduciary duty claim fails as a matter of law. (Doc. # 11).

A. Plaintiff's "Shotgun" Pleading

Before addressing Defendant's arguments for dismissal, the court notes that Count Two attempts to state claims under three different sections of ERISA: 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), § 1132 (a)(3), and § 1132(c).

Shotgun pleadings are those that assert multiple claims for relief in single counts and incorporate every antecedent allegation by reference into each subsequent claim for relief or affirmative defense. Wagner v. First Horizon Pharm. Corp., 464 F.3d 1273, 1279 (11th Cir. 2006); Anderson v. Dist. Bd. of Trs. of Cent. Fla. Cmty. Coll., 77 F.3d 364, 366 (11th Cir. 1996) (stating that multiple claims should be presented separately in adherence to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(b)); see also Kennedy v. Bell South Telecommunications, Inc., 546 Fed.Appx. 817, 819-20 (11th Cir. 2013). The Eleventh Circuit has discouraged district courts from considering "shotgun" pleadings. Wagner, 464 F.3d at 1279. "When faced with a shotgun pleading, the trial court, whether or not requested to do so by the party's adversary, ought to require the party to file a repleader." U.S. ex rel. Atkins v. McInteer, 470 F.3d 1350, 1354 n.6 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Byrne v. Nezhat, 261 F.3d 1075, 1133 (11th Cir.2001)). Thus, although Count Two of Plaintiff's Complaint should not be dismissed solely because it constitutes shotgun pleading, for this reason alone, it must, at least, be repled.

B. Plaintiff's Statutory Penalties Claim

Defendant argues that it cannot be held responsible for statutory penalties under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c) resulting from a failure to provide documents pursuant to 29 USC §1024(b)(4) because it is not the "named" Plan Administrator of the Plan. (Doc. # 11). Plaintiff responds by pointing out that the Eleventh Circuit has imposed liability against parties acting as the plan administrator even when they were not identified as the plan administrator in the plan documents. (Doc. # 13). Plaintiff asserts that the Plan document furnished clearly reflects that plan administrator duties were ...


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