United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
CAROL H. STEWART, Plaintiff,
HARTFORD LIFE & ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Carol Stewart sues Defendant Hartford Life & Accident
Insurance Company based on Hartford's denial of her
applications for long term disability benefits and waiver of
life insurance premiums, which she contends violates the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA”). (Doc. 1). She seeks recovery of the
long term disability and waiver of premium benefits
(“Count One”); damages for breach of fiduciary
duty (“Count Two”); and reinstatement of her
waiver of premium benefits (“Count Three”).
moves to dismiss Count Two. (Doc. 13). Ms. Stewart opposes
the motion to dismiss but moves, in the alternative, to amend
the complaint. (Doc. 18). The court WILL GRANT the motion to
dismiss Count Two because ERISA does not permit a plaintiff
to seek equitable relief if the allegations supporting the
claim for equitable relief would also support a claim for
recovery of benefits. The court WILL DENY AS FUTILE the
alternative motion to amend.
this motion seeks to dismiss a claim, the court must accept
as true the allegations in the complaint and construe them in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Butler v.
Sheriff of Palm Beach Cty., 685 F.3d 1261, 1265
(11th Cir. 2012). Ms. Stewart alleged in her complaint that,
from 1983 until March 2013, she worked as an attorney for the
law firm Burr & Forman LLP. Burr & Forman provides
employees like Ms. Stewart a welfare benefit plan that
includes long term disability benefits and life insurance
benefits. By 2013, Hartford was administering Burr &
Forman's benefits plan.
2007, while working for Burr & Forman, Ms. Stewart was
diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. She alleges that, in
2012, she became “totally disabled” as that term
is defined by the long term disability policy. In the same
year, she applied for two benefits under the plan: (1) long
term disability benefits, and (2) waiver of life insurance
premium benefits. Hartford denied her application for long
term disability benefits. As to Ms. Stewart's application
for waiver of life insurance premiums, Hartford initially
denied the application, later determined that she was
eligible for that benefit, and finally terminated her waiver
of premium benefits.
Stewart contends that Hartford erroneously denied her
application for long term disability benefits and engaged in
improper claims procedures in denying her application for,
and appeal from the denial of, waiver of premium benefits.
She also contends that Hartford breached its fiduciary duties
by failing to follow the claims review procedure and by
wrongfully denying Ms. Stewart's claim for waiver of
asserts three causes of action under ERISA: (1) recovery of
benefits, pursuant to ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) (“Count
One”); (2) breach of fiduciary duty, pursuant to ERISA
§ 502(a)(3) (“Count Two”); and (3)
reinstatement of her waiver of premium benefits, pursuant to
ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B).
moves to dismiss Count Two of Ms. Stewart's complaint.
(Doc. 13). Ms. Stewart opposes that motion, but requests, in
the alternative, that this court grant her leave to amend the
complaint. (Doc. 18). The court will address each motion in
Motion to Dismiss Count Two
moves to dismiss only Count Two of Ms. Stewart's
complaint. (Doc. 13). It contends that Count Two, the claim
for breach of fiduciary duty under § 502(a)(3), is a
claim for equitable relief that a plaintiff cannot sustain
when she can also seek recovery of benefits under §
502(a)(1)(B) based on the same factual allegations.
case arises under ERISA, which “protects employee
pensions and other benefits . . . by setting forth certain
general fiduciary duties applicable to the management of both
pension and nonpension benefit plans.” Varity Corp.
v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489, 496 (1996). The two paragraphs of
ERISA relevant to this case are § 501(a)(1)(B) and
§ 501(a)(3). Section 501(a)(1)(B) provides that a
participant or beneficiary of a plan may bring a civil action
“to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his
plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or
to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of
the plan.” 29 U.S.C. § 1129(a)(1)(B). Section
501(a)(3) provides that a participant, beneficiary, or
fiduciary may bring a civil action “to obtain other
appropriate equitable relief (i) to redress [violations of
any provision of this subchapter or the terms of the plan],
or (ii) to enforce any provisions of this subchapter or the
terms of the plan.” 29 U.S.C § 1132(a)(3).
Supreme Court has explained that § 501(a)(3) is a
“catchall” provision that offers
“appropriate equitable relief for injuries caused by
violations that § 502 does not elsewhere adequately
remedy.” Varity, 516 U.S. at 512. The Eleventh
Circuit has interpreted Varity to mean that the only
question in determining whether a plaintiff may bring a
§ 502(a)(3) claim for equitable relief is “whether
the allegations supporting the Section 502(a)(3) claim [are]
also sufficient to state a cause of action ...