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Cheryl Schussheim v. First Unum Life Ins. Co

July 13, 2012

CHERYL SCHUSSHEIM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIRST UNUM LIFE INS. CO., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurley, Senior District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff, Cheryl Schussheim, brings this action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 USCS § 1001 et seq., challenging defendant's denial of her long-term disability insurance benefits. Presently before the Court is plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion.

I.BACKGROUND

In February of 2004, plaintiff began receiving long-term disability ("LTD") benefits through an employee benefit plan sponsored by her employer, and administered by defendant First Unum Life Insurance Company. (Compl. ¶ 16.) On July 28, 2008, these benefits were terminated by defendant even though plaintiff alleges that there was "no improvement or change whatsoever in [her] physical condition." (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff administratively challenged that decision, but defendant denied the application, as well as plaintiff's subsequent internal appeal. (Letter dated 12/1/10, attached to the Proposed Am. Compl. as Ex. 4.) Plaintiff filed the present ERISA claim in this Court on November 9, 2009.

Less than a month after filing her complaint in this action, plaintiff applied for Social Security benefits ("SSDI"). That application was approved by the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on November 4, 2010, retroactive to October 28, 2003. (SSA Decision, Pl.'s Ex. 3.) Two weeks after receiving this decision, plaintiff's counsel forwarded the SSA approval of benefits to defendant's counsel and requested that plaintiff's claims and appeal determinations be reopened at the administrative level. (12/1/10 letter.) Defendant denied the request stating that the Plaintiff "had not cited any legitimate basis for [her] demand that First Unum re-open the closed administrative record and provide an additional review under these circumstances." (Id.)

Plaintiff then filed a letter motion on December 30, 2010 to Magistrate Judge Wall, seeking to compel defendant to reopen the administrative determination for reconsideration and reinstatement of her benefits in light of the SSA decision. (Letter Motion dated 12/30/11, docket no. 24.) Magistrate Judge Wall denied this motion, and plaintiff appealed the Order to me. (See Order dated 2/9/11.) This Court subsequently upheld the decision, noting inter alia:

Plaintiff's request . . . disregards the content of her own pleading. As noted above, the complaint seeks review of defendant's denial of plaintiff's disability claim prior to the issuance of the SSA decision. The pleading, in its current state, does not implicate the propriety of any decision made by defendant after that point. To the extent that plaintiff suggests defendant acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying plaintiff's requests to re-open her case file below, no such allegation is made in the complaint, and plaintiff has not moved to amend or supplement her complaint accordingly.

(Order dated 5/19/11 at 6.)

Plaintiff now moves to amend her complaint. The proposed amended pleading asserts that under defendant's own internally mandated procedure, defendant is required to reopen plaintiff's administrative claim in light of the SSA award. (Proposed Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24-25.) This purportedly mandatory procedure is found in defendant's Claims Manual, which states that when a claimant supplies "additional information," regarding a benefits claim determination, First Unum must "determine if the previous claim should be re-opened or if a new claim should be marked up." (The Benefits Center Claims Manual: Re-opening a Claim ("Re-opening Provision"), Pl.'s Ex. 6.) The Claims Manual further states that upon review of a claim, First Unum must "give any SSA award of disability benefits . . . significant weight under certain circumstances in making the disability determination." (The Benefits Center Claims Manual: Social Security Award of Disability Benefits ("SSA Provision"), Pl.'s Ex. 7.) Aside from these additional claims-embodied in the second and third causes of action of the new pleading*fn1 -that defendant's termination of benefits should be reopened at the administrative level, plaintiff's amended pleading mirrors the original complaint.

II.DISCUSSION

a.Standard of Review

Under Rule 15(a), the Court "should freely give leave [to amend a pleading] when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a); AEP Energy Servs. Gas Holding Co. v. Bank of Am., N.A., 626 F.3d 699, 725 (2d Cir. 2010). However, a district court may deny a motion to amend where there is "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc." Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). "The standard for futility with respect to a motion to amend under Rule 15 is identical to the standard for a Rule 12 (b)(6) motion to dismiss - namely, the court must determine whether the allegations in the complaint state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Amna v. New York State Dep't of Health, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127139, *4 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 3, 2009)(citation omitted).

To survive a motion to dismiss [under 12(b)(6)], a plaintiff must allege "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. ...


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