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Dobson v. Citigroup

June 23, 2009

KATHLEEN DOBSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITIGROUP, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to have the undersigned conduct all further proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment. Dkt. #12.

Currently before the Court is defendant Citigroup, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment. Dkt. #15. For the following reasons, Citigroup Inc.'s motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

On or about September 11, 2003, plaintiff commenced this action pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") seeking a declaratory judgment, reinstatement of her medical coverage, back pay and attorney's fees and costs. Dkt. #1. As alleged in the complaint, plaintiff, Kathleen Dobson, had been a full-time, salaried employee of Travelers Insurance Company ("Travelers"). At the time plaintiff's employment with Travelers ceased, Travelers was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Citigroup, Inc. ("Citigroup"). Id. at ¶ 4. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that she was employed by Travelers (Citigroup) for over five years and that her employment ended in September 2001 due to a disability. Id. at ¶ 10. Plaintiff further alleges that she was disabled at the time her employment was terminated and that Travelers (Citigroup) wrongfully denied her request for continuing medical coverage. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.

On or about April 14, 1995, plaintiff commenced a proceeding before the New York State Workers' Compensation Board seeking benefits from Travelers resulting from alleged occupational injuries to her right hand, elbow, shoulder and left elbow. Dkt. #15-2, ¶ 3. Thereafter, plaintiff and Travelers agreed to settle her workers' compensation claim pursuant to section 32 of New York's Workers' Compensation Law and the terms of a written Settlement Agreement. Id. at ¶ 4. The Settlement Agreement was approved by the Workers' Compensation Board on October 26, 2001. Id. The terms of the Settlement Agreement provided in part that,

[c]laimant agrees that she will not assert any claim, either in law or in equity, in any other forum against Travelers for the problems with her bilateral hands, bilateral elbows or right shoulder or any other alleged direct or consequential injury and that she does hereby expressly release Travelers from any such liabilities in return for the consideration to be paid pursuant to the terms of this settlement agreement.

Dkt. #15-5, p.5, ¶ 4. The Settlement Agreement further provided that claimant agreed to resign from Travelers and agreed never to reapply for employment with Travelers or with any Citigroup subsidiary. Id. at ¶ 6. Moreover, the parties agreed that once approved by the Workers' Compensation Board, the Settlement Agreement would be final and binding and that it may not later be appealed to or reviewed by any court or the Workers' Compensation Board. Id. at ¶ 8. In exchange for the promises discussed above, Travelers agreed to pay plaintiff a lump-sum payment of $125,000. Dkt. #15-5.

Plaintiff argues that her final day of employment with Travelers was on or about September 25, 2001 and further, that by October 1, 2001, she had exhausted all of her "unused vacation, sick, Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and other leave of absence time-off from work." Dkt. #18-2, ¶ 5. Additionally, plaintiff maintains that she was informed that upon the exhaustion of all available unused time off, her job would no longer be "held open." Id. at ¶ 6. According to Travelers, after she resigned, plaintiff "elected to continue and paid for over one year of health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act ("COBRA")." Dkt. #15-5, ¶ 8.

By letter dated May 30, 2002, plaintiff's counsel asked Travelers to continue her medical coverage as a "terminated disabled employee." Dkt. #15-5, ¶ 9; Dkt. #15-9. On June 6, 2002, Travelers' counsel Richard Fortier advised plaintiff's counsel that plaintiff was not a terminated employee because she resigned pursuant to the terms of the Settlement Agreement and that she was not in "disability status" at the time of her "resignation" and therefore, she did not qualify for continued benefits. Dkt. #15-5, ¶ 10; Dkt. #15-10. Plaintiff's counsel appealed the denial by letter dated September 9, 2002 and continued to insist that she was entitled to continued medical benefits because she was both "disabled" and "terminated." Dkt. #15-5, ¶ 11; Dkt. #15-11. Finally, by letter dated March 24, 2003, Citigroup's Secretary of the Plans Administration Committee, Richard M. Green, Esq., replied to plaintiff's Notice of Appeal and reiterated that by executing the Settlement Agreement, plaintiff "surrendered the right to seek further employee benefits." Dkt. #15-5, ¶ 12; Dkt. #15-12.

DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "In reaching this determination, the court must assess whether there are any material factual issues to be tried while resolving ambiguities and drawing reasonable inferences against the moving party, and must give extra latitude to a pro se plaintiff." Thomas v. Irvin, 981 F. Supp. 794, 798 (W.D.N.Y. 1997) (internal citations omitted).

A fact is "material" only if it has some effect on the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see Catanzaro v. Weiden, 140 F.3d 91, 93 (2d Cir. 1998). A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such ...


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