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Keeley Bamforth v. Frontier Commc'ns Corp.; and Prudential Ins. Co. of Am

December 12, 2012

KEELEY BAMFORTH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FRONTIER COMMC'NS CORP.; AND PRUDENTIAL INS. CO. OF AM., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this employee benefits action filed by Keeley Bamforth ("Plaintiff") against Frontier Communications Corporation ("Defendant Frontier") and Prudential Insurance Company of America ("Defendant Prudential"), is Defendant Prudential's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). (Dkt. No. 15). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant Prudential's motion is granted.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Complaint

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges as follows. Starting on October 2, 1989, Defendant Frontier employed Plaintiff as a Telephone Directory Clerk. (Dkt. No. 1, at ¶ 3 [Plf.'s Compl.].) Through Defendant Prudential, Defendant Frontier provided group disability insurance coverage to its employees, including Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 7.) More specifically, Plaintiff was issued a disability policy under the Frontier Communications Corporation Disability Plan. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Effective January 11, 2010, Defendant Prudential awarded Plaintiff short-term disability benefits. (Id. at ¶ 13.) However, by letter dated July 26, 2010, Defendant Prudential and Defendant Frontier (collectively "Defendants") arbitrarily denied Plaintiff's claim for short-term disability benefits and disallowed her claim for long-term disability benefits, effective June 28, 2010. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 20, 24, 26-28.)*fn1 In addition, beginning on April 11, 2011, Defendant Frontier refused, despite Plaintiff's request, to provide her with a complete copy of her short-term and long-term disability claim file (as well as all of the materials pertinent to Defendant Frontier's determination concerning Plaintiff's short-term and long-term disability claims). (Id. at ¶¶ 39-43.) Moreover, at unspecified times, Defendant Prudential regularly communicated protected health information to Defendant Frontier, as part of an effort to actively participate in Defendant Frontier's discrimination against Plaintiff for asserting her right to disability benefits under the plan. (Id. at ¶¶ 47, 51.) This discrimination culminated in Defendant Frontier's termination of Plaintiff by letter dated February 21, 2011. (Id. at ¶¶ 49, 51.)

Based on these factual allegations, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint asserts the following three causes of action against Defendants arising from 29 U.S.C. § 1132 ("ERISA § 502") and 29 U.S.C. § 1140 ("ERISA § 510"): (1) a cause of action claiming that Defendants have violated her rights under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(b) by failing to provide with her long-term benefits under the plan from September 1, 2010, until the date of judgment in these proceedings; (2) a cause of action claiming that Defendant Frontier has violated her rights under ERISA § 502(c) by failing to provide her with a complete copy of her short-term and long-term disability claim file (as well as all of the materials pertinent to Defendant Frontier's determination concerning Plaintiff's short-term and long-term disability claims); and (3) a cause of action claiming that Defendants have violated her rights under ERISA § 510 by discriminating against her for asserting her right to disability benefits under the plan, specifically, through (a) Defendant Prudential's regular communication of her protected health information to Defendant Frontier in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA"), and (b) Defendant Frontier's termination of her employment. (Id. at ¶¶ 32-54.)

Familiarity with the factual allegations supporting these causes of action in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

B. Parties' Briefing on Defendant Prudential's Motion

1. Defendant Prudential's Memorandum of Law

Generally, in support of its motion for judgment on the pleadings, Defendant Prudential argues that, to the extent that Plaintiff's third cause of action is asserted against Defendant Prudential, that cause of action must be dismissed for two reasons. (See generally Dkt. No. 15, Attach. 1, at 2-3, 5-8 [attaching pages "2," "3," and "5" through "8" of Def.'s Prudential's Memo. of Law]; Dkt. No. 15, Attach. 8, at 2 [Ex. F to Def.'s Motion, attaching Group Disability Insurance Authorization dated Jan. 26, 2010].)

First, argues Defendant Prudential, Plaintiff cannot assert a claim against Defendant Prudential arising under HIPAA because (a) HIPAA does not confer on Plaintiff a private right of action, and (b) based on a document that is relied upon by and is integral to Plaintiff's Complaint (specifically, the sixth paragraph of the Group Disability Insurance Authorization signed by Plaintiff on January 26, 2010), Plaintiff authorized Defendant Prudential to, inter alia, "redisclose[]" her medical information, which "is no longer governed by federal rules governing privacy and confidentiality of health information." (Id.)

Second, argues Defendant Prudential, because Plaintiff's discrimination claim against Defendant Prudential under ERISA § 510 is based on Defendant Prudential's allegedly wrongful disclosure of her confidential health information to Defendant Frontier (i.e., in violation of HIPAA), and because that disclosure was not in fact wrongful (in that it did not violate HIPAA), Plaintiff has no plausible cause of action against Defendant Prudential for discrimination under ERISA § 510. (Id.)

2. Plaintiff's Opposition Memorandum of Law

Generally, in opposition to Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings, Plaintiff asserts three arguments. (See generally Dkt. No. 16, Attach. 3, at 3-9 [attaching pages ...


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