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Zuckerman v. United of Omaha Life Insurance Co.

July 21, 2010

RACHEL ZUCKERMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED OF OMAHA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, AMERICAN PHARMACEUTICALS PARTNERS, INC., AND AMERICAN PHARMACEUTICALS PARTNERS, INC. EMPLOYEE BENEFIT PLAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Currently before the Court are two motions to dismiss in part Plaintiff Rachel Zuckerman's first amended complaint, one filed by Defendant United of Omaha Life Insurance Company ("United of Omaha") [17] and the other filed by American Pharmaceuticals Partners, Inc. ("APP") [24]. Also pending is Defendant United of Omaha's motion to strike jury demand [26]. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants both motions to dismiss [17 & 24] and denies as moot the motion to strike jury demand [26].

I. Background*fn1

Plaintiff Rachel Zuckerman worked for Defendant APP as a Senior Scientist-project. Defendant AAP sponsored the American Pharmaceuticals Partners, Inc. Employee Benefit Plan ("Plan"). APP purchased Group Policy No. GUD-252C from Defendant United of Omaha to fund the long-term disability benefits offered under the Plan. As the insurer, United of Omaha agreed to pay certain benefits to eligible Plan participants "subject to the terms, conditions, and limitations of [the] Policy."

On April 4, 2006, Plaintiff stopped working for APP due to the combined effects of headaches, fibromyalgia, difficulty sleeping, and cognitive impairments, which Plaintiff believes were the result of chemical exposure in the workplace. After leaving her employment, Plaintiff filed a claim for worker's compensation benefits. She also applied for Social Security disability benefits, which she recently was awarded. APP advised Plaintiff that she was not eligible to apply for LTD benefits while also seeking worker's compensation benefits. APP later confirmed that position in a letter sent by APP to United of Omaha on August 12, 2008. The letter states that APP "instructed" Plaintiff not to file her disability claim until after her Worker's Compensation claim was resolved. Contrary to APP's advice, Plaintiff was eligible for LTD benefits regardless of causation because the LTD policy treats workers' compensation benefits as an offset against LTD benefits, but does not exclude benefit eligibility in the event of work-related injuries or illnesses.

In reliance on APP's representations, Plaintiff did not apply for LTD benefits until 2008. At the time that she applied, she was approved to receive short-term disability benefits by Disability Management Services ("DMA"), which acted on behalf of the Plan with respect to short-term benefits. Then, on November 24, 2008, Defendant United of Omaha issued a determination that Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff appealed this determination, but United of Omaha upheld its decision and refused to pay benefits. In addition to affirming its decision that Plaintiff was not disabled, United of Omaha raised an additional reason for the denial, which previously had not been communicated to Plaintiff -- namely, that the claim was denied due to late notice of the claim and the failure to timely submit proof of loss.

II. Legal Standard On Motion To Dismiss

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case.See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level," assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563. The Court accepts as true all of the well-pleaded facts alleged by the plaintiff and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Barnes v. Briley, 420 F.3d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 2005).

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court generally must confine its inquiry to the factual allegations set forth within the four corners of the operative complaint. See Rosenblum v. Travelbyus.com, 299 F.3d 657, 661 (7th Cir. 2002). In the usual case, therefore, if a party moving for a 12(b)(6) dismissal submits documents with its motion to dismiss, the Court either must ignore the documents or convert the motion to one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b); Venture Assoc. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993). However, "[d]ocuments that a defendant attaches to a motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings," and may be considered on a motion to dismiss, "if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to her claim." Venture, 987 F.2d at 431. Documents that fall within this "narrow" exception must be "concededly authentic." Tierney v. Vahle, 304 F.3d 734, 738 (7th Cir. 2002).

Applying that standard, the Court will consider the following documents that are referred to in Plaintiff's complaint and central to her claims: (1) APP's Group Policy No. GUD-252C, which APP purchased from United of Omaha to fund long-term disability benefits offered under the APP Employee Benefit Plan ("Plan"); and (2) a letter dated August 12, 2008, from APP to United of Omaha, advising United of Omaha that APP advised Plaintiff not to file her disability claim until after her Worker's Compensation claim was resolved.

III. Analysis

A. United of Omaha's Motion to Dismiss

1. Proper Defendant

In Count I, asserted against Defendant United of Omaha and/or the Plan, Plaintiff claims she is entitled to her LTD benefits under § 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). In its motion to dismiss Count I of Plaintiff's first amended complaint, United of Omaha first asserts that it is not a proper defendant and that only the benefit plan can be sued under ERISA. In response, Plaintiff contends that the party rendering the claim determination is a proper party to a suit seeking benefits due under ERISA and ...


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