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Singletary v. Prudential Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 30, 2015

LINDA SINGLETARY
v.
THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, ET AL., SECTION

ORDER AND REASONS

MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN, District Judge.

Before the Court are four motions: (1) The Prudential Insurance Company of America's motion to dismiss Count III of the plaintiff's complaint; (2) The United Parcel Service Flexible Benefits Plan and United Parcel Service, Inc.'s motion to dismiss Counts I (as to UPS only), II, and III of the plaintiff's complaint; (3) The Prudential Insurance Company of America's motion to dismiss Count IV of the plaintiff's amended complaint; and (4) The United Parcel Service Flexible Benefits Plan and United Parcel Service, Inc.'s motion to dismiss Counts III and IV of the plaintiff's amended complaint. For the reasons that follow, the motions are GRANTED.

Background

This lawsuit arises out of a widow's efforts to recover life insurance benefits following her husband's tragic death at age 37 in a weekend motorcycle accident; benefits that were denied because of her late husband's active military status.

Linda Singletary worked for United Parcel Service, Inc. as a part-time, non-union employee. As a UPS employee, Mrs. Singletary participated in the UPS Service Flexible Benefits Plan, which provides group insurance coverage to certain qualified UPS employees and their dependents. The Plan, which includes benefits for both basic dependent life insurance benefits and optional, supplemental dependent life benefits, [1] is an employee welfare benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 1001, et seq. The Prudential Insurance Company of America provides the life insurance benefit and is the plan administrator with respect to the life insurance benefit at issue.[2]

Timothy Singletary died in October 2012. Mr. Singletary was a member of the United States Army, but he was stationed stateside and was off-duty at the time of his death.[3] After her husband's death, Mrs. Singletary submitted a claim to Prudential for life insurance benefits under the Plan. On December 4, 2012, Prudential denied her claim on the grounds that Mr. Singletary was not a qualified dependent because he was on "active duty" in the armed forces at the time of his death.[4] Mrs. Singletary twice appealed Prudential's adverse benefits determination on the grounds that (a) Mr. Singletary was a qualified dependent at the time of his death because he was off duty; and (b) it is illegal discrimination to deny benefits to a serviceman. Prudential twice denied Mrs. Singletary's appeals.

Having exhausted her administrative remedies under the terms of the Plan and ERISA, Mrs. Singletary sued The Prudential Insurance Company of America, the United Parcel Service Flexible Benefits Plan, and United Parcel Service, Inc. Mrs. Singletary seeks to recover damages related to the denial of basic and optional dependent life insurance benefits under the benefit plan sponsored by her employer, UPS, and she advances four theories of recovery.[5] First, Mrs. Singletary seeks to recover from Prudential dependent group life insurance benefits; a claim governed by ERISA (Count I).[6] Second, Mrs. Singletary alleges that UPS (only) has violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 by denying her equal access and coverage for life insurance benefits under the terms of the Plan solely because her husband was on active duty status in the armed forces at the time of his death (Count II). Third, Mrs. Singletary seeks to recover, under the Louisiana Military Service Relief Act, La.R.S. 29:402, an award of all basic and optional dependent life insurance benefits under the Plan, plus an amount equal to that award as liquidated damages and attorney's fees. Fourth, Mrs. Singletary seeks a declaration under La.R.S. 22:943(A) that the Plan's referenced exclusion (based solely on an otherwise qualified dependent's status as a member of the armed forces) is illegal; she also seeks an award of all group life insurance benefits.[7]

Prudential now seeks to dismiss Counts III and IV of the plaintiff's original and amended complaints. And the Plan, along with UPS, now seek to dismiss Counts II, III, and IV of the original and amended complaints; UPS also seeks to dismiss Count I insofar as it is named as a defendant to the plaintiff's ERISA claim.

I.

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to move for dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Such a motion is rarely granted because it is viewed with disfavor. See Lowrey v. Tex. A & M Univ. Sys., 117 F.3d 242, 247 (5th Cir. 1997) (quoting Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Sales, Inc. v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 677 F.2d 1045, 1050 (5th Cir. 1982)).

Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009)(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8). "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, thedefendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court "accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" See Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999)). But, in deciding whether dismissal is warranted, the Court will not accept conclusory allegations in the complaint as true. Kaiser, 677 F.2d at 1050. Indeed, the Court must first identify allegations that are conclusory and, thus, not entitled to the assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). A corollary: legal conclusions "must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 678. Assuming the veracity of the well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court must then determine "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 679.

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Gonzalez v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009)(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678)(internal quotation marks omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and footnote omitted). "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, 556 U.S. at 678 ("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."). This is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679. "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. at 678 (internal quotations omitted) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief'", thus, "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (citation omitted).

Finally, "[w]hen reviewing a motion to dismiss, a district court must consider the complaint in its entirety, as well as other sources ordinarily examined when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, in particular, documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice." Funk v. Stryker Corp., 631 F.3d 777, 783 (5th Cir. 2011)(quoting Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007)).

II.

Mrs. Singletary concedes that the Plan is subject to ERISA; indeed, she alleges that her husband was covered under the Plan as a qualified dependent. She likewise concedes that the group life insurance policy excludes coverage for dependent life insurance benefits based solely on an individual's status as a member of the armed forces without regard to any connection between the insured's death and war (or other military activities or duties). But she insists that it does so unfairly, and illegally. Thus, the defendants in their four pending motions to dismiss focus not on Mrs. Singletary's ERISA claim; rather, they focus on whether or not Mrs. Singletary has stated any one of three claims that the group policy exclusion is prohibited by the Louisiana Insurance Code, or is illegal discrimination against members of the armed forces under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 or the Louisiana Military Service Relief Act.

A.

As an initial matter, insofar as the plaintiff seeks to recover from UPS on her ERISA claim, the plaintiff has failed to state a claim. The plaintiff does not allege that UPS is more than merely a plan sponsor, that UPS controls administration of the Plan, or that UPS has the authority to fund or decide claims with respect to the life insurance benefits at issue. Accordingly, it appears that UPS is not a proper defendant to Mrs. Singletary's ERISA claim. See LifeCare Management Services, LLC v. Insurance Management Administrators Inc., 703 F.3d 835, 843 (5th Cir. 2013). see also Musmeci v. Schwegmann Giant Super Markets, Inc., 332 F.3d 339, 349-50 (5th Cir. 2003). By ...


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