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Sergei Chepilko v. Cigna Group Insurance

June 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge:


This case arises from the denial by Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York ("CLICNY") of a claim for disability benefits by Dr. Sergei Chepilko ("Chepilko"), the plaintiff pro se, under a Group Long-Term Disability Insurance Policy (the "Policy") issued by CLICNY that Chepilko had through his former employer. The Policy is subject to the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. After CLICNY denied Chepilko's claim in 2002, he appealed, and CLICNY denied his appeal. Chepilko then brought this breach of contract action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1), seeking to enforce his rights under the Policy.

CLICNY has now moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that the statute of limitations has run, and that, in any event, Chepilko has failed to raise a material issue of fact, and that the undisputed facts show that he was able to perform the material duties of his job and was therefore not disabled as defined by the Policy, for a continuous 180-day period, as required by the Policy. Jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1). For the reasons explained below, the motion for summary judgment is granted.


The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying the matter that it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts that are material and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Summary judgment is appropriate if it appears that the nonmoving party cannot prove an element that is essential to the nonmoving party's case and on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Cleveland v. Policy Mgmt. Sys. Corp., 526 U.S. 795, 805--06 (1999); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Powell v. Nat'l Bd. of Med. Exam'rs, 364 F.3d 79, 84 (2d Cir. 2004). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587--88 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 1994). If the moving party meets its initial burden of showing a lack of a material issue of fact, the nonmoving party must produce evidence in the record and "may not rely simply on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible." Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 532 (2d Cir. 1993); see also Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114--15 (2d Cir. 1998); Montalbano v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, No. 10 Civ. 5973, 2012 WL 516150, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 2012).


The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted:


Chepilko held a research position at Cornell University's Weill Medical College ("WMC") since at least 1997. (Arbitrio Decl., Ex. B ("Administrative Record" or "AR"), at 175.) In June, 2001, Chepilko was appointed to a one year position as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pharmacology at WMC, which was renewable based on, among other things, performance. (AR at 173-174.)

Chepilko was assigned to work on a project relating to the effect of particular compounds on insulin secretion by the pancreas. (Def.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3; Pl.'s R. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 3.) Chepilko was expected to conduct experiments, interpret data, and prepare manuscripts for publication. (Def.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5; Pl.'s R. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 5.)

On September 26, 2001, Chepilko, received a termination letter, effective on September 28, 2001. (AR at 438.) The letter asserted that Chepilko had "failed to make any progress," had "failed in even the most basic laboratory skills," and had "managed to contaminate the cell culture incubator, putting everybody's work at risk." (AR at 438.)


CLICNY insured Chepilko under the Policy, which was offered through WMC. (Def.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2; Pl.'s R. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 2.) A person covered under the Policy is considered disabled if, "because of Injury or Sickness . . . he is unable to perform all the material duties of his regular occupation." (AR at 39; see Def.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 16; Pl.'s R. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 16.)

Under the Policy, an employee only becomes eligible for benefits if the employee is continuously disabled over the course of a waiting period. (See Def.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 17;

Pl.'s R. 56.1 Resp. ΒΆ 17.) In Chepilko's case, the parties agree that the waiting period is 180 days, and that the relevant period is September 27, 2001 to March 27, 2002. (See Def.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. ...

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