United States District Court, S.D. New York
December 3, 2004.
MELANIE BLOOM, as Administratrix of the Estate of DAVID JEROME BLOOM, and the Beneficiary of the Insurance Policies at Issue, Plaintiff,
CIGNA CORPORATION, LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA, and METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL MUKASEY, Chief Judge, District
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Melanie Bloom, as administratrix of the estate of
decedent David Jerome Bloom ("Bloom") and beneficiary of the
insurance policies at issue in this case, sues defendants CIGNA
Corporation ("CIGNA"), Life Insurance Company of North America
("LINA"), and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("Metlife") for
accidental death benefits provided under insurance policies
issued to the decedent. Plaintiff alleges (i) wrongful denial of
benefits in violation of the Employment Retirement Income
Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq.; (ii) deceptive
business acts in violation of New York General Business Law
Section 349; and (iii) state law breach of contract. In addition
to the accidental death benefits, plaintiff demands a jury trial,
punitive or treble damages, and attorneys' fees and litigation
costs. All three defendants move to dismiss the two state law
claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and to strike the
jury demand. CIGNA seeks dismissal of the entire complaint on the
ground that it is not a proper defendant. For the reasons set
forth below, the motions are granted.
The following facts, which are accepted as true for the
purposes of this motion, are derived from plaintiff's complaint and attached exhibits.
Bloom was a reporter for NBC, a subsidiary of General Electric
("GE"). (Compl. ¶ 14) The Complaint alleges that as part of the
GE Accidental Death Insurance Plan ("the Plan"), Metlife and
CIGNA issued insurance policies to Bloom that were intended to
cover him in the event of injury or death while on assignment in
a war zone, including Iraq during the spring of 2003. (Id. ¶
16) On April 6, 2003, while covering the war in Iraq, Bloom died
of an apparent blood clot. (Id. ¶ 17; Ex. D to Compl.)
Following Bloom's death, plaintiff filed a claim with Metlife
and CIGNA. Both companies denied the claim on the ground that
Bloom's death was not accidental because he had had a genetic
propensity to develop a pulmonary embolism, or blockage of a
blood vessel by a blood clot. (Compl. at ¶ 19) Plaintiff filed a
timely internal appeal to both companies, contending that the
claim was proper and that payment should be made. (Id. ¶ 20)
CIGNA and Metlife denied the appeal. (Id. ¶ 22) On July 22,
2004, plaintiff brought the instant action.
This court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the
Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA),
29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. Dismissal of a claim is appropriate only where "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of
facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to
relief." Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir.
1998) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).
All three defendants argue for dismissal of plaintiff's two
state law claims on the ground that these claims are preempted by
ERISA. CIGNA adds that it is not a proper defendant and should be
dismissed from the action because it did not underwrite the Plan,
did not deny plaintiff's claim for benefits, and is not a
fiduciary to the Plan. LINA "concedes" that it underwrote the
Plan, denied plaintiff's claim, and is the claim fiduciary to the
In an affidavit responding to defendants' dismissal motions,
plaintiff's counsel David Jaroslawicz expressed his client's
willingness "to discontinue the action as against CIGNA without
prejudice . . . so that if judgment is not satisfied [by LINA],
we can look to CIGNA if that becomes necessary." (Affidavit of
David Jaroslawicz, dated October 27, 2004 ("Jaroslawicz Aff.") at
1-2) Plaintiff states that "CIGNA is the ultimate corporate
parent of LINA." (Id. at 1) She does not address squarely
CIGNA's contention that it is an improper defendant in this case.
(Id.) As to LINA and Metlife, plaintiff requests in the same
affidavit that the jury trial demand and claims for punitive and
treble damages under state law "be dismissed without prejudice
so that they can be reinstated if the state of the law changes
while this action is still pending." (Id. at 2) Jaroslawicz
hopes for "changes" in the scope of ERISA preemption such that
"in addition to an ERISA claim one may also bring a companion
State Law claim." (Id.)
The affidavit provides no legal support for either of these
requests to dismiss without prejudice.
Plaintiff does not dispute that the two state law claims are
preempted by ERISA. The state law claims boil down to enforcement
of plaintiff's alleged right to benefits under the Plan. ERISA
preempts "any and all State laws insofar as they may now or
hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan,"
29 U.S.C. § 1144(a), and causes of action aimed "`to recover benefits due to
[the plaintiff under the terms of the] plan, to enforce his
rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to
future benefits under the terms of the plan.'" Lupo v. Human
Affairs, Int'l, Inc., 28 F.3d 269, 272 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)). Hence, both claims are preempted. See
Kolaskinski v. CIGNA Healthplan of Connecticut, Inc.,
163 F.3d 148, 149 (2d Cir. 1998) (state law unfair trade practices
and breach of contract claims brought to obtain benefits under
ERISA plan are preempted by ERISA); Reichelt v. Emhart Corp.,
921 F.2d 425, 431-32 (2d Cir. 1990).
Accordingly, plaintiff's state law claims for breach of
contract and deceptive business practices under N.Y. Gen. Bus.
Law § 349 are dismissed with prejudice. Neidich v. Estate of
Neidich, 222 F. Supp.2d 357, 375 (S.D.N.Y. 2002); Gulf South
Med. & Surgical Inst. v. Pan Am Life Ins. Co., No 91-4649,
1992 WL 300766, at *4 (E.D. La. Oct. 5, 1992) (dismissal of state
law claims entered with prejudice "because it operated on the
merits of plaintiff's state law claims since they were entirely
preempted and therefore could never be brought again").
Plaintiff's request for punitive and treble damages is
dismissed as well. The Supreme Court has held specifically that
"Congress did not provide, and did not intend the judiciary to
imply, a cause of action for extra-contractual damages caused by
improper or untimely processing of benefit claims." Thomas v.
Verizon, No. 03-3083, 2004 WL 1948753, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 2,
2004) (quoting Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Russell,
473 U.S. 134, 148 (1985)); see also Diduck v. Kaszycki & Sons
Contractors, Inc., 974 F.2d 270, 286 (2d Cir. 1992) (punitive
damages not available under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(2)); De Pace v.
Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 257 F. Supp.2d 543, 565
(E.D.N.Y. 2003). Punitive damages are "extra-contractual damages"
in the ERISA context. Thomas, 2004 WL 1948753, at *5. Likewise, plaintiff's jury trial demand is stricken. As a
matter of law, "there is no right to a jury trial in a suit
brought to recover ERISA benefits," Sullivan v. LTV Aerospace
and Defense Co., 82 F.3d 1251, 1257-59 (2d Cir. 1996), because
"cases involving ERISA benefits are inherently equitable in
nature, not contractual." DeFelice v. Am. Int'l Life Assurance
Co. of New York, 112 F.3d 61, 64 (2d Cir. 1997).
As for plaintiff's request that the action against CIGNA be
dismissed without prejudice to making CIGNA answerable later for
a judgment against LINA, plaintiff fails to rebut CIGNA's
contention that it is not properly a defendant in this action. In
an ERISA claim to recover benefits, "only the plan and the
administrators and trustees of the plan in their capacity as such
may be held liable." Crocco v. Xerox Corp., 137 F.3d 105, 107
(2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Leonelli v. Pennwalt Corp.,
887 F.2d 1195, 1199 (2d Cir. 1989)). Plaintiff does not contest CIGNA's
claims that it did not issue the insurance policy that
underwrites the Plan, did not deny plaintiff's claim for
benefits, and is not a fiduciary to the Plan. Plaintiff requests
only that the action be dismissed without prejudice as to CIGNA
so that in the case that LINA cannot satisfy a judgment,
plaintiff can sue CIGNA. Again, there is no precedent or other
support for such a disposition.
Accordingly, CIGNA's motion to dismiss the complaint is granted.
* * *
For the reasons set forth above, plaintiff's second and third
claims for relief are dismissed with prejudice as to LINA and
Metlife. The entire complaint is dismissed with prejudice as to
Only plaintiff's ERISA claim remains to be tried in this
action. Because there is no right to a jury trial in a suit
brought to recover ERISA benefits, Sullivan, 82 F.3d at 1259,
this case will be decided in a bench trial.
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