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Lawson v. Federal Insurance Co

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

November 26, 2018




         This matter concerns a dispute over entitlement to the proceeds of a life insurance policy. The parties have consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 19). Presently pending is the defendants' March 28, 2018 motion to dismiss, to which the plaintiff has not responded. (Doc. 22). For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss is due to be granted in its entirety.


         The plaintiff, Johnny Lawson, originally filed this matter in the Circuit Court of Marshall County, Alabama. (Doc. 1-1 at 2). The Complaint named four defendants and several fictitious parties. (Id.). The case was subsequently removed to this court on the basis of federal diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). Following removal, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss all of the claims asserted. (Doc. 4). In response to the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff noted the complaint was drafted under the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure and filed in state court; he moved to file an amended complaint in light of the removal to federal court. (Doc. 13; see Doc. 17). On March 23, 2018, the court granted the plaintiff's motion to amend and denied without prejudice the defendants' motion to dismiss in light of the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 21).

         The Amended Complaint names three defendants: (1) Federal Insurance Company; (2) Broadspire;[1] and (3) Affinion Benefits Group, LLC. (Doc. 17). On March 23, 2018, the defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss, seeking dismissal of all claims asserted. (Doc. 22). The Initial Order governing this case requires that briefs in opposition to non-summary judgment motions are due within fourteen (14) calendar days after the motion is filed. (Doc. 20 at 5). The plaintiff has not responded to the motion to dismiss.


         "Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Rule 8 "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "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." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (quotation marks omitted).

         As noted by other courts sitting in this district, a motion to dismiss is not automatically granted where a plaintiff fails to file a brief in opposition. Gadson v. Ala. Dep't of Corr., No. 13-0105-VEH, 2013 WL 5230241, at *2 (N.D. Ala. entered Sept. 17, 2013). Rather, the movant still bears the initial burden of demonstrating entitlement to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). Id. In circumstances where a plaintiff fails to file an opposition to a motion to dismiss, courts sitting in this district have held the following legal standard applies:

[T]he Court will review the merits of the movant's position and, if it is clearly incorrect or inadequate to satisfy the movant's initial burden, will deny the motion despite the nonmovant's failure to respond. If, however, the movant's presentation is adequate to satisfy its initial burden, the Court will not deny the motion based on arguments the nonmovant could have made but by silence elected not to raise.

Id. (alterations incorporated) (quoting Branch Banking and Trust Co. v. Howard, No. 12-0175, 2013 WL 172903, *1 (S.D .Ala. entered Jan. 16, 2013)).

         III. FACTS

         The plaintiff and his late wife, Patsy O. Lawson, entered into a group accidental death and dismemberment insurance contract (the "Policy") with Federal Insurance Company. (Doc. 17 at 1-2). The Amended Complaint alleges an unidentified agent led the plaintiff to believe the Policy was the "best" Federal offered and that Federal would cover and promptly pay benefits for any accidental death. (Id. at 2). The Policy was in effect when Mrs. Lawson passed away on May 19, 2015. (Id.). The Amended Complaint describes Affinion Benefits Group, LLC, ("Affinion") as the company that holds and administers the Policy; it describes Broadspire as the company which processes claims on behalf of Federal and Affinion. (Id. at 1).

         The plaintiff made a timely claim under the Policy; the claim sought the Policy's face value on Mrs. Lawson's life and the 60% spousal loss benefit. (Doc. 17 at 2). The defendants initially denied the claim via a January 14, 2016 letter and have continually refused to pay the plaintiff's claim. (Id.). Somewhat more specifically, the Amended Complaint alleges the plaintiff's claim was denied on the basis of a "questionable prescription drug exclusion." (Id. at 3; see Id. at 4). The plaintiff contends Federal and Affinion failed to investigate the claim and thus did not discover Mrs. Lawson had been "taking her medication as prescribed" prior to her death. (Id. at 3). The Amended Complaint also notes Mrs. Lawson was covered by two other accidental death policies issued by different insurers; although those policies included exclusions similar to those in the Federal Policy, the plaintiff received ...

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