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Giles v. Continental Casualty Co.

February 5, 2010

RICHARD E. GILES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CONTINENTAL CASUALTY COMPANY, AN INSURANCE CORPORATION, HARTFORD FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC., AN INSURANCE CORPORATION, AND DR. ROBERT BARRACK, AND THE CENTER FOR ADVANCED MEDICINE, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM, ORDER AND ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE

This matter comes before the Court on the motions to dismiss filed by defendants Robert Barrack (Doc. 8) and Washington University Medical Center ("WUMC"), improperly named as Center for Advance Medicine, Washington University Medical Center (Doc. 13). Barrack and WUMC ask the Court to dismiss plaintiff Richard E. Giles' claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction or, in the alternative, to transfer this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Giles has filed a consolidated response to the motions (Doc. 36).

I. Background

This case arose from troubles Giles had in connection with a group long term disability ("LTD") insurance plan ("the Plan"). Giles was enrolled in the Plan as an employment benefit from his employer Phillip Services Corporation. The Plan was underwritten by defendant Continental Casualty Company ("Continental") and was administered by defendant Hartford Financial Services, Inc. ("Hartford").

Giles was apparently injured and began receiving LTD benefits under the Plan beginning in February 2004. Two years later, Hartford informed Giles that his LTD benefits had been terminated. That decision was apparently based on a functional assessment from the office of defendant Barrack, Giles' treating orthopedic surgeon, finding that Giles was able to perform sedentary work. Giles believed that the assessment was erroneous, that he was incapable of performing any work at all and that he was therefore entitled to lifetime LTD benefits under the Plan. According to Giles, Barrack acknowledged the assessment was inaccurate and had been signed by someone in his office without his authority. Nevertheless, Barrack failed to revise the assessment or submit a new assessment when Giles asked him to.

Barrack apparently practices in a building, the Center for Advanced Medicine, owned by WUMC.

In May 2009, Giles filed this lawsuit. He attempts to plead a cause of action against each defendant to recover benefits under § 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). In his claim against Barrack and WUMC (Count II), he alleges Barrack was negligent in failing to prepare an accurate functional assessment, in authorizing submission of the assessment to Hartford, in failing to acknowledge the erroneous assessment to Hartford and to correct it, and in failing to complete a new assessment. He asserts WUMC is liable for Barrack's negligence because he was functioning as an agent of WUMC at the relevant times.

Barrack and WUMC now ask the Court to dismiss this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because Giles cannot plead an ERISA cause of action against them. They further ask the Court to dismiss the claims against them for lack of personal jurisdiction because they have insufficient connections with the state of Illinois to justify being forced to appear before the District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. Alternatively, they ask the Court to transfer this case to the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, which has personal jurisdiction over them. Giles argues that even if he cannot make out an ERISA cause of action against Barrack and WUMC, he has adequately pled a Missouri state law negligence cause of action over which the Court has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). He further urges the Court to keep the defendants in this case and keep the case in this district for reasons of judicial economy.

As it must, the Court addresses the question of jurisdiction first, then turns to the question of venue.

II. Analysis

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

The Court will not dismiss Giles' claims against Barrack and WUMC for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Giles essentially concedes he cannot make out an ERISA claim against those defendants. Indeed, the proper defendant in an ERISA claim for benefits under § 502(a)(1)(B) is the ERISA plan itself and, in some special instances, the employer administrator of the plan. See Blickenstaff v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. Short Term Disability Plan, 378 F.3d 669, 674 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Neuma, Inc. v. AMP, Inc., 259 F.3d 864, 872 n. 4 (7th Cir. 2001); Jass v. Prudential Health Care Plan, 88 F.3d 1482, 1490 (7th Cir. 1996)); Mein v. Carus Corp., 241 F.3d 581, 584-85 (7th Cir. 2001); Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549, 551 (7th Cir. 1997). It is clear that Barrack and WUMC are not proper defendants in Giles' ERISA claim for benefits.

However, Giles' erroneous identification of his claim as an ERISA claim is not fatal as long as relief is possible under any set of facts consistent with the allegations. See Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G., 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1992). Here, Giles has pled facts that support a negligence claim, and he believes the Court has jurisdiction over that claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Under § 1332(a), a district court has diversity jurisdiction over actions between citizens of different states where more than $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, is in issue.

The Court cannot determine whether it has diversity jurisdiction over this case because Giles has not properly alleged the citizenships of the parties. He alleges his and Barrack's residence, but not their citizenships. A complaint asserting diversity jurisdiction must allege the citizenship of an individual defendant, not merely residence. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1); Meyerson v. Harrah's E. Chi. Casino, 299 F.3d 616, 617 (7th Cir. 2002); Held v. Held, 137 F.3d 998, 1000 ...


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