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Sheriff v. Bridgeford Foods Corp.

September 9, 2009

MATTHEW W. SHERIFF PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRIDGEFORD FOODS CORP., BRIDGFORD FOODS CORP. GROUP WELFARE PLAN, CIGNA CORP., CONNECTICUT GENERAL LIFE INSURANCE CO., AND UNITED GROUP PROGRAMS, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Defendant Connecticut General Life Insurance Company ("CGLIC") moves to dismiss Counts I-IV of Mathew W. Sheriff's complaint (the "Complaint"), which seeks to hold CGLIC liable for multiple violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. Count I alleges that CGLIC failed to respond to Sheriff's request for the production of documents related to a benefit plan which provides health insurance coverage to the employees of Bridgford Foods Corporation (the "Plan") in violation of 29 U.S.C. §§ 1024(b)(4) and 1132(c)(1). Count II claims CGLIC breached its fiduciary duty to Sheriff in violation of 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132(a)(3), 1022, and 1024(b). Count III makes a common law claim of equitable estoppel, and finally, Count IV seeks, in the alternative, benefits under the Plan.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to seek dismissal of a complaint that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff. Pisciotta v. Old Nat'l Bancorp, 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted). Legal conclusions, however, are not entitled to any assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct.1937, 1940 (2009). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "the complaint need only contain a 'short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). However, the allegations must provide the defendant with "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) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The plaintiff need not plead particularized facts, but the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]" Id. 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." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1940 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

II. BACKGROUND

Sheriff worked for Bridgford Foods Corporation ("Bridgford") as a Director of Business Development between January 2006 and May 2007. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 27. In March 2006 Sheriff suffered a stroke. Id. ¶ 17. At the time, Sheriff was insured through a health plan provided by a previous employer which he had extended via the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 ("COBRA") 29 U.S.C. §§ 1161, et seq. Compl. ¶ 13. Sheriff also enrolled in the Plan in April 2006 and his enrollment became effective on May 8, 2006. Id. ¶ 14. When Sheriff enrolled he alleges that he was never provided with a statement limiting his coverage under the Plan to an annual maximum amount. Id. ¶ 16. Indeed, Sheriff alleges the opposite: that he received written disclosures stating that his medical coverage under the Plan was "unlimited." Id. ¶¶ 20-21 & Ex. A. Through 2006 Sheriff maintained coverage through both the Plan and the insurance he procured through COBRA. Sheriff's COBRA plan, however, paid all of his 2006 medical costs. Id. ¶ 18. At the end of 2006, Sheriff alleges that he discontinued his COBRA coverage and decided to forego enrollment in his spouse's heath benefit plan, allegedly because of the representation that the Plan conferred "unlimited" coverage to him. Id. ¶¶ 19-22.

In February 2007, Sheriff's doctors prescribed stereotactic radiosurgery, a form of radiation therapy, and referred him to the University of Virginia Primary Care Center ("UVA") for the procedure. Id. ¶ 23. UVA representatives contacted CGLIC*fn1 prior to performing the procedure to obtain any necessary pre-authorization. CGLIC told UVA that preauthorization was not required for the procedure to be covered under the Plan. Id. ¶¶ 24-25. On May 1, 2007, Sheriff underwent the surgery. Id. ¶ 26. Sheriff returned to work on May 4, 2007 and was told that his employment by Bridgford was being terminated "retroactively" to a date before the procedure was performed. Id. ¶ 27.

Following his termination, Sheriff elected COBRA continuation coverage under the Plan, and made the required payments. Id. ¶ 31. In September 2007 Sheriff was proscribed a prosthetic device to assist with his recovery. Id. ¶ 33 & Ex. B. Sheriff contacted CGLIC to obtain pre-approval for the cost of acquiring the device and to ensure that the cost would be covered under the Bridgford Plan. CGLIC assured Sheriff that the device was covered by the Plan. Sheriff obtained the prosthetic device in September 2007, and submitted a claim for reimbursement to the Plan. Id. ¶ 35. In October 2007, Sheriff contacted CGLIC to inquire on the status of his request for reimbursement of the cost of the prosthetic device. CGLIC then advised him that his coverage under the Plan was subject to an annual maximum of $25,000. Id. ¶ 36.

Sheriff incurred more than $150,000 in medical charges in 2007 that the Plan has refused to cover based upon this maximum. Id. ¶ 39. The charges remain unpaid. Resp. 5.

III.ANALYSIS

CGLIC presents a series of arguments in favor of dismissal, all of which are unavailing or premature. CGLIC's motion is therefore denied for the reasons set forth below.

A. Count I for Relief under 29 U.S.C. §§ 1024(b)(4) and 1132(c)(1)

CGLIC contends that the court must dismiss Count I of the Complaint because (1) CGLIC is not the plan "administrator"; (2) CGLIC complied with the statutory obligation to timely provide Sheriff with the documents enumerated in ยง 1024(b)(4); and (3) statutory penalties cannot be imposed for failure to provide ...


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