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Seekatz v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Alaska

September 26, 2016

KAREN SEEKATZ, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS AT DOCKET 28

          RALPH R. BEISTLINE U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Before the Court at Docket 28, Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company moves for dismissal of Plaintiff Karen Seekatz's First, Second, and Fourth Causes of Action. Plaintiff opposes at Docket 30 and Defendant replies at Docket 38.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that in the fall of 2011, as an employee of British Petroleum, she enrolled for dependent life insurance in the amount of $250, 000 for her husband, Matt Seekatz.[1] This was the maximum allowable through BP's Group Universal Life Plan (the Plan), and Plaintiff began making premium payments on November 15, 2011, which continued bi-weekly until Mr. Seekatz passed away on May 6, 2012.[2] Plaintiff submitted a claim for the $250, 000 death benefit in September 2012.[3] Although Plaintiff maintains that all necessary paperwork was completed under the Plan, Defendant denied her claim based on purported failure to submit a statement of health and instead paid out the basic death benefit of $20, 000 per the Plan.[4]

         Plaintiff has asserted four causes of action against Defendant: breach of fiduciary duties, equitable relief under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), breach of contract, and tortious breach of contract.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) may be granted “only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proven consistent with the allegations.”[5] In deciding the motion, not only must a court accept all material allegations in the complaint as true, but the complaint must be construed, and all doubts resolved, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.[6]

         “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.”[7] Additionally, although a complaint "need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must plead enough facts to state a claim of relief that is plausible on its face."[8]A court should not look to “whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.”[9]

         DISCUSSION

         The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) establishes minimum standards and extensive rules to protect the interests of employee benefit plan participants and their beneficiaries.[10] ERISA includes civil enforcement provisions under 29 U.S.C. § 1132, which are "the exclusive vehicle for actions by ERISA-plan participants and beneficiaries asserting improper processing of a claim for benefits."[11] Under Section 1132(a)(1), a civil action can be brought by a plan participant or beneficiary "to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan." Section 1132(a)(2) allows for a civil suit for appropriate relief on behalf of the plan for breach of fiduciary duty.[12] Of final relevance to the present case, Section 1132(a)(3) allows for a civil suit to enjoin any actions or practices in violation of ERISA or the terms of the plan or "to obtain other appropriate equitable relief to redress such violations or to enforce any provisions of [ERISA] or the terms of the plan."

         A. Preemption

         The parties do not dispute that ERISA supersedes "any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan."[13] Defendant therefore argues that Plaintiff's first and fourth causes of action, breach of fiduciary duty and tortious breach of contract respectively, fall under State law claims specifically preempted by ERISA and should be dismissed. Plaintiff effectively concedes as much in her opposition, acknowledging that all remedies must lie within ERISA and making no defense of the first cause of action.[14] The Court concurs that Plaintiff's Tortious Breach of Contract cause of action is clearly a State law claim, but recognizes that a breach of fiduciary duty cause of action could be raised under Section 1132(a)(2) for injuries to the Plan as a whole. However, Plaintiff has failed to assert this basis for her first cause of action in her opposition to the motion to dismiss. Even if Plaintiff had not abandoned this cause of action, the Court finds no support in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for a breach of fiduciary duty claim under ERISA beyond her Section 1132(a)(3) claim addressed below. Accordingly, the Court dismisses Plaintiff's first and fourth causes of action for Breach of Fiduciary Duties and Tortious Breach of Contract.

         B. Section 1132 Claims

         Plaintiff's remaining causes of action, breach of contract and equitable relief, align with Sections 1132(a)(1) and 1132(a)(3) respectively. As discussed above, a state law breach of contract claim would be preempted. However, Defendant does not oppose the conversion of Plaintiff's breach of contract claim into a denial of benefits claim under Section 1132(a)(1) claim and the Court agrees. Under such a conversion, Plaintiff's second cause of action is therefore undisputed in the present motion to dismiss as a claim for wrongful denial of benefits.

         1. ...


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