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Xie v. JPMorgan Chase Short-Term Disability Plan

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 7, 2017

THE JPMORGAN CHASE SHORT-TERM DISABILITY PLAN and JPMORGAN CHASE EMPLOYEE RELATIONS EXECUTIVE in his or her capacity as the plan administrator of The JPMorgan Chase Short-Term Disability Plan, Defendants.

          HONORABLE LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, United States District Judge.


          KATHARINE H. PARKER United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Agnes Xie, proceeding pro se, brings this action under Section 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), to recover short-term disability (“STD”) benefits pursuant to a short-term disability plan offered by her former employer, JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (“JPMC”).

         Plaintiff has moved for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. (Doc. No. 52.) Plaintiff also requests permission to file certain medical records under seal. (Doc. No. 64.) For the reasons set forth below, this Court recommends that Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend be denied insofar as it seeks to add claims under Sections 502(a)(3) and 510 of ERISA and to the extent it seeks to add claims under Section 502(c) of ERISA premised upon plan document requests made orally and to nonadministrators. This Court grants Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend insofar as it seeks to add a claim under Section 502(c) of ERISA premised upon Plaintiff's written request for plan documents made to the Plan Administrator. Finally, this Court denies Plaintiff's motion to seal (Doc. No. 64) as moot.


         On September 12, 2013, JPMC offered Plaintiff a full-time position as an Executive Director in the Model Risk & Development Group in JPMC's New York office. JPMC set out the terms of its offer in an agreement of the same date. Plaintiff accepted the offer and commenced work on September 30, 2013.

         Under the terms of her employment agreement, Plaintiff was eligible to participate in JPMC's Short-Term Disability Plan (the “STD Plan”) and other benefit plans included as part of JPMC's “Wrap Plan” in accordance with the terms and conditions of such plans. The STD Plan designates JPMorgan Chase Employee Relations Executive as the Plan Administrator.

         As a condition of her hire, Plaintiff also entered into an Arbitration Agreement (the “Agreement”), in which Plaintiff agreed to submit “Covered Claims” to final and binding arbitration before the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) in accordance with the terms of the Agreement. The Agreement defines “Covered Claims” as all legally protected employment-related claims (subject to certain specifically identified exceptions) against JPMC, including, but not limited to, “claims of employment discrimination or harassment if protected by applicable federal, state or local law, and retaliation for raising discrimination or harassment claims, failure to pay wages, bonuses or other compensation, tortious acts, wrongful, retaliatory and/or constructive discharge . . . .” (Doc. No. 60-5, ¶ 2.) Certain claims, including “claims for benefits under a plan that is governed by Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), ” among others, are specifically excluded from arbitration under the Agreement. (Doc. No. 60-5, ¶ 3.)

         Within two weeks of her start date and continuing through December 10, 2013, Plaintiff complained of certain defects in her workstation that caused an injury to her shoulder, as well as pain in her shoulder, neck and back, and severe headaches. The SAC alleges that Plaintiff's supervisor knew of and acknowledged her complaints.

         JPMC designated “Access HR” as the channel for JPMC employees to report leaves of absence and make inquiries about leave of absence benefits. Between November 2013 and December 2013, Plaintiff called Access HR at least three times and spoke to two different Human Resources (“HR”) representatives to inquire how to file STD and workers' compensation claims and to request plan documents and company policies. According to Plaintiff, Access HR told Plaintiff that she was not eligible for short-term disability or workers' compensation benefits, refused to provide Plaintiff with information, denied Plaintiff access to Plan documents, and refused to disclose the identity of the STD Plan Administrator.

         Plaintiff states that she “commenced a leave of absence from work . . . due to [a] psychological condition . . . triggered by physical injuries that she was enduring” on December 29, 2013. (SAC ¶ 12.) While on leave, Plaintiff contacted Access HR again and was again informed that she could not file a claim for short-term disability benefits or workers' compensation because she had not completed a 90-day “Introductory Period.” (SAC ¶ 12.) Plaintiff's employment was terminated on December 30, 2013.

         After her termination from employment, Plaintiff contacted Access HR on at least three more occasions about filing claims for STD and workers' compensation benefits. According to the SAC, the HR representatives repeated what they previously communicated-that Plaintiff was not eligible for these benefits because she had not worked for 90 days-and continued to refuse to provide Plaintiff with Plan documents and contact information for filing a claim.

         In an effort to get information from another source, Plaintiff then contacted the New York State Workers' Compensation Board and its Disability Benefits Bureau (collectively, the “WCB”), which allegedly informed her that JPMC's policies violated state laws. Thereafter, on March 20, 2014, Plaintiff called Access HR again regarding filing an STD benefits claim and to again request documentation regarding workers' compensation benefits. On this call, Plaintiff informed the HR representative that she had filed a claim with the WCB. The HR representative again refused to send Plaintiff the requested documentation.

         Nevertheless, on March 25, 2014, Plaintiff filed a claim for STD benefits under the STD Plan by fax to JPMorgan Chase Disability Management Services (“DMS”), the claims administrator for the STD Plan. The SAC is silent as to how Plaintiff learned how and where to file her STD claim. Plaintiff alleges that she also made telephonic requests for STD Plan documents to DMS, but these requests were ignored.

         On April 9, 2014, DMS denied Plaintiff's claims for New York State short-term disability benefits and for supplemental STD benefits under the STD Plan because her claim was untimely. Plaintiff contends she was never advised of any deadline for filing a benefits claim. Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal on April 28, 2014, which DMS denied on June 10, 2014.

         On July 14, 2014, the WCB determined that Plaintiff was entitled to New York State short-term disability benefits for the period running from December 2013 to June 2014. On July 24, 2014, DMS reversed its prior denial of New York State short-term disability benefits, but continued to deny Plaintiff's claim for supplemental STD benefits under the STD Plan. Plaintiff subsequently filed two additional administrative appeals from the denial of STD benefits to DMS, both of which were denied.

         On December 28, 2014, Plaintiff made a written request for STD Plan documents to the named Plan Administrator. She received the STD Plan documents from JPMC's Legal Department by email in January 2015.

         Plaintiff commenced this action on June 8, 2015, seeking to recover unpaid STD benefits under the STD Plan pursuant to Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). On November 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, which asserted the same cause of action as the initial Complaint but modified the factual allegations recited therein. Defendants subsequently filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On July 20, 2016, the Honorable Lorna G. Schofield denied Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         On or about August 9, 2016, Plaintiff requested permission to further amend her pleading, but indicated that, because of disability, she needed an extension of time to do so as an accommodation. Judge Schofield granted Plaintiff's request, stayed this case for six months, and ordered Plaintiff to file either a motion to amend or a letter stating that she no longer sought an amendment by no later than February 10, 2017. Judge Schofield further ordered that Plaintiff's failure to file such a motion or letter by February 10, 2017 would result in the case being dismissed without prejudice.

         On February 21, 2017, Judge Schofield dismissed this case without prejudice because Plaintiff had not filed a motion or letter regarding her proposed amendments. Plaintiff subsequently moved to reopen the case. Judge Schofield granted Plaintiff's request to reopen and ordered her to file a motion for leave to amend her complaint by March 15, 2017.

         On March 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for leave to amend and on May 4, 2017, filed her request for permission to file certain medical records ...

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