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Benson v. Life Insurance Company of North America

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

September 24, 2014

NATASHA RENEE CANNON BENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA d/b/a CIGNA GROUP INSURANCE; RBC USA HOLDCO CORPORATION; RBC CAPITAL MARKETS HOLDING (USA Defendants.

ORDER

W. EARL BRITT, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on defendants' motion to partially dismiss plaintiff's complaint. (DE # 11.)

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on 17 February 2014 in Johnston County Superior Court, North Carolina, seeking payment of benefits under both a short-term and long-term disability policy. (DE # 1-2.) Defendants removed the case to this court on 1 July 2014, (DE # 1), and filed the instant motion to partially dismiss on 29 July 2014, (DE # 11). Plaintiff did not file a response to defendants' motion.

Plaintiff was an employee of RBC Insurance Company, a subsidiary of RBC USA Holdco Corporation, when she experienced the alleged disabilities that gave rise to her claims for benefits. (Compl., DE # 1-2, ¶¶ 4, 7.) She was covered by RBC Capital Markets Holdings (USA)'s[1] ("RBC Capital") self-funded salary continuation plan, a short-term disability policy. (Id. ¶ 9; DE # 12-1, at 1.)[2] Benefit payments under this policy "are processed on the regular payroll schedule, and [] taxed as regular income." (DE # 12-1, at 20.) Life Insurance Company of North America ("LINA") administered the short-term disability policy and provided various services related to it, such as reviewing claims and advising whether a claim is payable under the policy. (Id. at 6.) However, RBC Capital was "responsible for making the final decision with respect to all claims... and for funding and issuing all benefit payments." (Id. at 6, 7.) Plaintiff was also covered by a long-term disability policy issued by LINA to RBC Capital. (Compl., DE # 1-2, ¶ 10.)

In June of 2010, plaintiff stopped working due to alleged disabilities. (Id. ¶¶ 11-19.) She received short-term disability benefits between 10 June 2010 and 8 July 2010, (id. ¶ 19), but was denied further benefits, (id. ¶ 21). Plaintiff filed a claim for long-term disability benefits beginning 8 September 2010, which was also denied. (Id. ¶ 23.)

Based on the denial of benefits, plaintiff asserts several federal and state law claims against defendants, namely, principal-agent liability, (id. ¶¶ 27-30); breach of contract, (id. ¶¶ 31-38); unfair and deceptive trade practices against LINA only, (id. ¶¶ 39-45); Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") violations, (id. ¶¶ 46-55); and punitive damages against LINA only, (id. ¶¶ 56-60).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Defendants move to partially dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This rule permits a court to dismiss an action for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To state a claim, a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A 12(b)(6) motion should only be granted if "it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief." Edwards v. City of Goldsboro , 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). However, a complaint that proffers only "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" with no "further factual enhancement" is insufficient. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557 (2007). To survive dismissal, a party must come forward with "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 548. The plausibility standard is met "when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). The court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and must draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc. , 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005); Myan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari , 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993).

A court may consider documents not attached to a complaint without converting a motion to dismiss into a summary judgment motion when such documents are "integral to and explicitly relied on in the complaint and [where] the [plaintiff does] not challenge [the documents'] authenticity." Phillips v. LCI Intern., Inc. , 190 F.3d 609, 618 (4th Cir. 1999). Defendants may attach such documents to a motion to dismiss without converting it into a summary judgment motion. Gasner v. Cnty of Dinwiddie , 162 F.R.D. 280, 282 (E.D. Va. 1995) (allowing the defendant to attach a "pertinent document" to its motion to dismiss without converting the motion into one for summary judgment). In the complaint, plaintiff cites both policies at issue by number. (Compl., DE # 1-2, ¶¶ 8-10.) She obviously relies on them to support her claims and has expressed no opposition to the court's consideration of them. Accordingly, the court will consider the short-term and long-term policies attached to defendants' motion and notice of removal, respectively.

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants argue that the only claims that can survive dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) are: 1) the breach of contract claim against the RBC defendants with respect to the short-term disability policy; and 2) the claim for long-term benefits and attorneys' fees against LINA under ERISA. (DE # 12, at 3.) The court considers each claim plaintiff alleges in turn.

With regard to plaintiff's first claim, entitled, "Principal liable for actions of agent, " (Compl., DE # 1-2, at 6), she has failed to state a cognizable claim. Respondeat superior is not a stand-alone cause of action. See Buchanan v. Fairfield Resorts, Inc., No. 1:04CV725, 2005 WL 3157580, at *3 (M.D. N.C. Nov. 25, 2005) ( "Respondeat superior is not an independent cause of action.... [It] is only a means to impute liability in some other cause of action."). Accordingly, this claim will be dismissed.

Second, plaintiff asserts a breach of contract claim against all defendants for failure to pay benefits under the short and long-term disability policies. The long-term disability policy is governed by ERISA. (DE # 1, at 24; see also Compl., DE # 1-2, ¶¶ 50, 52.) "ERISA preempts any and all State laws insofar as they... relate to any employee benefit plan.'" Coyne & Delany Co. v. Selman , 98 F.3d 1457, 1467 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted). Consequently, plaintiff's breach of contract claim as relating to the long-term disability policy will be dismissed as preempted by ERISA. See Lippard v. Unumprovident Corp. , 261 F.Supp.2d 368, 375 ...


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