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Weppler v. The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

May 20, 2018

SARAH WEPPLER PLAINTIFF
v.
THE HARTFORD FINANCIAL SERVICES GROUP, INC. d/b/a THE HARTFORD DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles R. Simpson III, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the court on two motions. On December 7, 2017, the Defendant, The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. d/b/a The Hartford (“Hartford”), filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and a motion to strike the jury demand. (DN 8.) On the same day, the Plaintiff, Sarah Weppler (“Weppler”) filed a motion to amend/correct the complaint. (DN 10.) For the reasons stated, the court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART the Plaintiff's motion to file an amended complaint. (DN 10.) The court will DENY AS MOOT the Defendant's motion to dismiss (DN 8).

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to her Complaint, Weppler was a practicing registered nurse who purchased long term disability insurance from the Defendant. (DN 1-2, ¶ 6.) After suffering a stroke, Weppler made a claim under her policy for long term disability benefits. (Id. at ¶ 10.) While her claim was originally approved in May of 2016, she received a letter in January of 2017 denying her further long term disability payments. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 14.) The Plaintiff appealed the denial of her claim, and this appeal was denied in August of 2017. (Id. at ¶¶ 23, 24.)

         The Plaintiff filed a Complaint in Jefferson Circuit Court, Kentucky alleging six counts: breach of contract; bad faith under the Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act; common law bad faith; negligence; breach of fiduciary duty; and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The Defendant promptly removed the action to this court, stating that the Plaintiff's claims against the Defendant invoke the court's federal question jurisdiction under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. (DN 1-2.)

         The Defendant soon thereafter filed its motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and motion to strike the Plaintiff's jury demand. (DN 8.) In its motion, Hartford argues that all of the Plaintiff's state law claims are preempted by ERISA, which does not allow for the recovery of extra-contractual damages and jury trials. The Plaintiff responded to the Defendant's motion to dismiss and strike and also filed a motion to amend/correct her Complaint. (DN 10.) With this motion, the Plaintiff tendered a proposed Amended Complaint. (DN 10-1.) Hartford filed a response in opposition to the Plaintiff's motion to amend her Complaint, arguing that Weppler's proposed Amended Complaint still includes improper claims. (DN 19.)

         The court will address each motion in turn.

         II. STANDARD

         A court should freely grant leave to amend a pleading when justice so requires. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). A district court may deny a motion to amend where there is “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         In this case, the Defendant has objected to certain portions of the proposed Amended Complaint. A proposed amendment is deemed to be futile if the amendment could not withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Thiokol Corp. v. Department of Treasury, State of Mich., Revenue Div., 987 F.2d 376, 382 (6th Cir. 1993). 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.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell At. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it “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.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The first issue before the court is the Defendant's motion to dismiss Weppler's Complaint under the premise that the state law claims brought against the Defendant are preempted by ERISA. The United States Supreme Court has unambiguously concluded that “any state-law cause of action that duplicates, supplements, or supplants the ERISA civil enforcement remedy conflicts with the clear congressional intent to make the ERISA remedy exclusive and is therefore preempted.” Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 209 (2004).

         The Plaintiff does not dispute that the state law claims brought in her Complaint would be preempted by ERISA, if indeed the policy in question is an ERISA-governed policy. Despite arguing that the Plaintiff has not received a copy of the policy to confirm that it is governed by ERISA, Weppler nevertheless filed a motion to amend and a proposed Amended Complaint. The Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint brings three counts: breach of contract/denial of benefits under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B); breach of fiduciary duty pursuant to ERISA § 502(a)[1]; and equitable relief pursuant to ERISA § 502(a)(3). Additionally, the Amended Complaint demands a trial by jury and actual and punitive damages.

         Because each count in Weppler's proposed Amended Complaint is brought under ERISA, the Defendant's motion to dismiss would be rendered moot upon the admittance of the Amended Complaint. However, the Defendant has objected to certain ...


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