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Wendy D. v. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp.

February 5, 2012

WENDY D. TERHART, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF CHARLES D. TERHART, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NIAGARA MOHAWK POWER CORP., NATIONAL GRID USA SERVICE CO., INC., AND METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE CO., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Wendy D. Terhart, individually and as executrix of the estate of her deceased husband, Charles D. Terhart, contends that Defendants National Grid USA Service Company, Inc. ("National Grid"),*fn1 her husband's former employer, and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. ("Met Life") unlawfully withheld $86,000 in payments pursuant to her husband's life insurance policy (the "Policy" or "Plan"), which was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001, et seq. Presently before this Court is each Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Docket Nos. 25, 28.) For the following reasons, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts*fn2

Before his retirement in April 2006, Charles Terhart was an employee at National Grid for more than 35 years. (Amended Complaint, ¶ 14; Docket No. 22.) As part of his compensation, Charles was entitled to a life insurance policy, which in this case was issued by Met Life. (Id., ¶¶ 15, 18.) Charles was under the impression -- allegedly reinforced by both Defendants -- that upon his death, his wife as the beneficiary, would be entitled to $106,000 in benefits. (Id., ¶¶ 20, 21.) In fact, by letter dated November 16, 2007 bearing the title "RE: Coverage Confirmation," which was sent after his retirement but before his death, Met Life informed Charles that he had $20,000 in basic life insurance coverage and an additional $86,000 in optional life insurance coverage. (Id., ¶ 21; Exhibit "A" of Amended Complaint.) But after Charles died on December 9, 2008, Met Life informed his wife, Wendy, that she was only entitled to $20,000 in benefits. Wendy commenced this litigation after repeated attempts, consistently rebuffed by Met Life, to secure the extra $86,000 and copies of the insurance plan documents. (Amended Complaint, ¶ 25.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff commenced this litigation on December 12, 2009 by filing a Complaint in this Court. (Docket No. 1.) With this Court's permission, Plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint on August 16, 2010. (Docket No. 22.) Defendants separately moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint in September and October of 2010 (Docket Nos. 25, 28) and as a result, the Honorable H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr.'s Case Management Order, which, inter alia, set a mediation schedule, was held in abeyance until the resolution of those motions (Docket No. 27).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

Rule 12 (b)(6) allows dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6). Federal pleading standards are generally not stringent: Rule 8 requires only a short and plain statement of a claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (a)(2). But the plain statement must "possess enough heft to show that the pleader is entitled to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1966, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).

When determining whether a complaint states a claim, the court must construe it liberally, accept all factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007). Legal conclusions, however, are not afforded the same presumption of truthfulness. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009) ("The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.").

"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.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1945 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Labels, conclusions, or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Facial plausibility exists when the facts alleged allow for a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct charged. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. The plausibility standard is not, however, a probability requirement: the pleading must show, not merely allege, that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 1950; Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (a)(2). Well-pleaded allegations must nudge the claim "across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

Courts therefore use a two-pronged approach to examine the sufficiency of a complaint, which includes "any documents that are either incorporated into the complaint by reference or attached to the complaint as exhibits." Blue Tree Hotels Inv. (Can.), Ltd. v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 369 F.3d 212, 217 (2d Cir. 2004). This examination is context specific and requires that the court draw on its judicial experience and common sense. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. First, statements that are not entitled to the presumption of truth - such as conclusory allegations, labels, and legal conclusions - are identified and stripped away. See id. Second, well-pleaded, non-conclusory factual allegations are presumed true and examined to determine whether they "plausibly ...


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