United States District Court, S.D. New York
Christopher J. Carcich, Esq. Michael Malatino, Esq. Deutsch
Atkins, P.C. Hackensack, N.J. Counsel for Plaintiff
Jennifer B. Courtian, Esq. Mina M. Wood, Esq. Kevin G. Lauri,
Esq. Jackson Lewis P.C. New York, NY Counsel for Defendant
OPINION & ORDER
KENNETH M. KARAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Nashonie Chang (“Plaintiff”) brings this Action
against Pfizer Inc (“Defendant”), asserting
claims for breach of contract, breach of the duty of good
faith and fair dealing, willful misconduct, and equitable
relief arising from Defendant's determination that
Plaintiff did not qualify for short-term disability benefits.
(See generally Am. Notice of Removal Ex. A
(“Complaint”) (Dkt. No. 8).) Defendant removed
the case from state court on the ground that portions of
Plaintiff's claims are completely preempted by the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.
Defendant has filed a Partial Motion To Dismiss pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), seeking to dismiss
the portion of Plaintiff's claims that are preempted by
ERISA. (Dkt. No. 25.) Plaintiff has filed a Motion To Remand
the case back to state court and for attorney's fees
incurred as a result of the allegedly improper removal. (Dkt.
No. 28.) For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion To
Remand is denied, Plaintiff's request for attorney's
fees is denied as moot, and Defendant's Partial Motion to
Dismiss is granted.
following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's Complaint and
the documents appended thereto, and are taken as true for the
purpose of resolving the Motions.
began working for Defendant in February 2002 as a packaging
employee in Defendant's Brooklyn, New York plant. (Compl.
¶ 3.) “Not long after” Plaintiff began
working for Defendant, she experienced “a severe sinus
infection.” (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff
continued to work at Defendant's Brooklyn plant in
various capacities until she was terminated in 2009.
(Id. ¶¶ 5- 8.) Plaintiff was rehired by
Defendant in April 2011 as a “Managing -
Engineer.” (Id. ¶¶ 10- 11.) During
her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff was a participant in
various employee benefits plans, including short-term
disability (“STD”) and long-term disability
(“LTD”) plans. (Id. ¶ 12.)
continued to suffer from issues related to her sinuses after
being rehired. (See Id. ¶ 15.) On March 4,
2014, Plaintiff went to work “despite having breathing
difficulties.” (Id. ¶ 16.) She was
subsequently discovered in a hallway struggling to breathe
and was “rushed to medical and eventually sent
home.” (Id.) Plaintiff was thereafter seen by
“many” medical professionals, (id.
¶ 18), who eventually diagnosed her with
“hypersensitive airway disease grouped with Bronchitis
and Asthma, ” (id. ¶ 20). After missing
four days of work, Plaintiff applied for and was granted STD
benefits, which are payable for up to six months if an
employee is “seriously ill.” (Id.
¶¶ 19, 21, 52 (internal quotation marks omitted).)
ongoing efforts to treat Plaintiff's condition, Defendant
terminated Plaintiff's STD benefits on May 12, 2014,
(id. ¶ 28), because Plaintiff did not provide
sufficient evidence to establish she was receiving
“active and effective treatment, ” (id.
¶ 29 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also
Id. Ex. D). Plaintiff appealed this determination,
explaining that she was being treated by eight different
healthcare providers. (Id. ¶ 30; see also
Id. Ex. E.) Defendant denied the appeal on the ground
that Plaintiff provided “insufficient medical
documentation of ongoing medical treatment.”
(Id. ¶ 32 (internal quotation marks omitted);
see also Id. Ex. F.) Plaintiff alleges that the STD
plan requires neither “active and effective
treatment” nor “ongoing medical treatment.”
(Id. ¶ 33 (internal quotation marks omitted).)
being informed that her appeal had been denied, Plaintiff
immediately contacted Dr. Nicole Schaffer (“Dr.
Schaffer”), the doctor who approved the denial of
Plaintiff's STD benefits. (Id. ¶ 34.)
Plaintiff “pleaded” with Dr. Schaffer to
reinstate Plaintiff's STD benefits, but Dr. Schaffer
accused Plaintiff of “being off someplace” and
explained that Defendant revoked Plaintiff's STD benefits
because Plaintiff “was not getting better anytime
soon.” (Id. ¶ 35 (internal quotation
marks omitted).) Plaintiff then asked whether she should
apply for LTD benefits. (Id. ¶ 36.) Dr.
Schaffer allegedly responded that Plaintiff was never going
to get LTD benefits because Plaintiff needed to receive STD
benefits for six months to qualify. (Id.) The LTD
plan summary itself reflects that a disabled employee
“may be eligible to begin receiving LTD benefits after
180 consecutive days of disability.” (Decl. of Jennifer
B. Courtian (“Courtian Decl.”) Ex. 3, at 7
(“LTD Plan Summary”) (Dkt. No.
then asked Defendant for clearance to return to work, or in
the alternative, the ability to work from home. (Compl.
¶ 37.) Both requests were denied, and Plaintiff was
terminated on July 11, 2014. (Id. ¶¶
37-38.) Since that time, Plaintiff has lost her health
insurance and been rendered homeless. (Id.
¶¶ 40, 49.) She has been unable to have the surgery
necessary to treat her sinus condition. (Id. ¶
alleges that Defendant breached its contractual obligation to
provide Plaintiff STD benefits. (Id. ¶ 48.) She
contends that she was “seriously ill” within the
meaning of the STD plan during the relevant period of time
and that Defendant imposed the “active and effective
treatment” and “ongoing medical treatment”
requirements as a pretext to deny her benefits. (Id.
¶¶ 53-54 (internal quotation marks omitted).) By
impermissibly denying benefits, Defendant prevented Plaintiff
from obtaining LTD benefits. (Id. ¶ 57.)
Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and an
injunction requiring Defendant to retroactively reinstate her
benefits to the date of her termination, “including
application for long-term disability.” (Id.
initiated this Action on October 23, 2015, by filing the
Complaint in state court. She asserted four causes of action:
(1) breach of contract; (2) breach of the duty of good faith
and fair dealing; (3) willful misconduct; and (4) equitable
relief. On November 16, 2015, Defendant removed the Action to
federal court. (See Notice of Removal (Dkt. No. 1).)
Pursuant to a Scheduling Order, Defendant filed its Partial
Motion To Dismiss and accompanying papers on March 25, 2016.
(Dkt. Nos. 25-27.) Plaintiff filed her Motion To Remand and
accompanying papers on March 29, 2016. (Dkt. Nos. 28-29.)
Plaintiff filed her opposition to Defendant's Partial
Motion To Dismiss on April 27, 2016, (Dkt. No. 36), and
Defendant filed opposition papers to Plaintiff's Motion
To Remand on the same date, (Dkt. No. 39).