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STEGER v. DELTA AIRLINES

August 5, 2005.

MARK J. STEGER, Plaintiff,
v.
DELTA AIRLINES, INC., and, AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARTHUR SPATT, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

The Plaintiff Mark J. Steger ("Steger" or the "Plaintiff") commenced this action under the section 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. 1132 (a)(1)(B). Plaintiff alleges that the defendants Delta Air Lines, Inc. ("Delta") and Aetna Life Insurance Company ("Aetna") (collectively, the "Defendants") improperly denied him long term disability benefits. Presently before the Court is the Defendants' motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss this action on the basis that the Defendants are not proper parties to this action.

I. BACKGROUND

  The following facts relevant to this motion are taken from the complaint and documents incorporated by reference to the complaint.

  On or about December 13, 1985, the Plaintiff was employed by Delta as a reservations agent and was enrolled in Delta's Employee Disability and Survivorship Plan (the "Plan"). The Plan provided from long term disability insurance for total and permanent disability as defined under the Plan. The Plan provides in pertinent part:
The operation and administration of the Plan . . ., the exclusive power to interpret it, and the responsibility for carrying out its provisions are vested in the Administrative Committee of at least three members, which Committee shall be the Administrator of the Plan, provided, however, that this responsibility shall not extend to the management and control of the assets of the Plan. The Board of Directors of the Company shall appoint the Administrative Committee members and shall have the power of removal and substitution, and shall designate the Chairman of the Committee.
  On December 13, 1985, the Plaintiff was diagnosed with, among other ailments, Labile Hypertension, which caused dizziness, headaches, and unpredictable fainting. As a result of this condition, it was determined that the Plaintiff was suffering from a long-term disability as defined by the Plan. Although the complaint alleges that the "Defendants" are responsible for the denial of his benefits, as set forth in more detail below, the Court's review of the relevant documents reveal that the Plan, a separate legal entity, is the proper defendant. From December 13, 1985 until approximately November 1, 2002, the Plaintiff was paid long term disability benefits pursuant to the Plan.

  In or about the year 2000, the Plaintiff was required to undergo various medical examinations by the Plan. A letter dated April 30, 2004 on Delta letterhead was sent from James F. Merna, the Secretary of the Committee to Scott R. Tirrell, Esq., the Plaintiff's counsel at the time (the "April 30, 2004 Letter"). This letter, incorporated by reference in the complaint, sets forth a chronological history of the relevant facts. According to this letter, in November 2001, Aetna advised Steger of the "Aetna Managed Disability" process which included the "possibility of an [independent medical examination.]." According to this letter, after several independent medical examinations, on October 28, 2002, Aetna informed James T. Murphy, Esq., the Plaintiffs previous attorney, that effective November 1, 2002, Steger's long term disability benefits would be terminated.

  In a letter dated December 6, 2002 to Aetna, Murphy appealed from the denial of Steger's benefits. By a letter dated April 17, 2003, the Plaintiff was informed by the Aetna Medical Director that the denial of his benefits was upheld. (the "April 17, 2003 Letter").

  This decision was appealed to the Administrative Committee by Attorney Tirrell in a letter dated July 10, 2003. After reviewing the appeal, the Committee upheld te denial of his long term disability benefits as of November 1, 2002. The Plaintiff was notified of this decision by way of the April 30, 2004 letter.

  On December 8, 2004, Steger commenced this action against the Delta and Aetna. The Defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss this action on the basis that the Plan and the Administrative Committee are the proper defendants, rather than the named parties.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. Standard of Review

  Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b) (6) allows a court to dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted." In deciding such a motion, the court must take the allegations of the complaint to be true and "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Bernheim v. Litt, 79 F.3d 318, 321 (2d Cir. 1996). In this regard, a complaint will not be dismissed unless "`it appears beyond doubt, even when the complaint is liberally construed, that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts which would entitle him to relief.'" Scutti Enterprises, LLC, v. Park Place Entertainment Corp., 191 F.3d 198, 202 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Jaghory v. New York State Dep't of Educ., 131 F.3d 326, 329 (2d Cir. 1997)); Desiderio v. National Ass'n of Securities Dealers, Inc., 322 F.3d 211, 214 (2d Cir. 1999).

  When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Court may not only look to the factual allegations of the complaint, but also to "any written instrument attached to it as an exhibit or any statement or documents incorporated in [the complaint] by reference." Cortec Industries v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1991); see also Leonard F. v. Israel Discount Bank, 199 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 1999). In addition, a plaintiff's reliance on a particular document in drafting the complaint allows the court to consider that document in deciding a motion to dismiss. Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002). The following documents were submitted by the parties and used by the Court in rendering this decision:
1. The Plan
  The Defendants annexed a copy of the Plan to their motion to dismiss. Because the Plan is directly referenced in the complaint and is the basis of this action, the Court may consider the Plan in deciding the motion to dismiss. See Berg v. Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 105 F.Supp.2d 121, 126 (E.D.N.Y. 2000) (In a situation where a plaintiff attached only portions of a document, the ...

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