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Smith v. The PNC Financial Services Group

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 21, 2017

WILEY JOSEPH SMITH Plaintiff
v.
THE PNC FINANCIAL SERVICES GROUP, et al. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: DISMISSAL MOTION

          MARVIN J. GARBIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court has before it Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [ECF No. 20], incorporated by reference in Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 31] and the materials submitted relating thereto. The Court finds that a hearing is unnecessary.

         I. PROCEDURAL POSTURE

         The procedural posture of the instant case requires remedial action to eliminate apparently unnecessary issues. In the pending Amended Complaint [ECF No. 11], [1] Plaintiff identified the Defendants as Liberty Life Assurance Company Of Boston (“Liberty”) and “PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. as Administrator of the PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., and Affiliates Long-Term Disability Plan (“PNC”).” Plaintiff did not name the PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., and Affiliates Long-Term Disability Plan (“the Plan”) as a defendant.

         In response to the Amended Complaint, Defendants PNC and Liberty filed the instant motion seeking dismissal of claims against them. However, the Plan - although not named in the Amended Complaint as a defendant - represented by the same counsel as Liberty and PNC - filed Defendant's Answer to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [ECF No. 19].[2]

         There are pending cross-motions for summary judgment, but the Plan is not a party to these. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 31] is filed by PNC and Liberty (but not the Plan) and Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 34] seeks summary judgment against PNC and Liberty (but not the Plan).

         II. DISMISSAL

         ERISA § 502, 29 U.S.C. § 1132 provides, in pertinent part:

An employee benefit plan may sue or be sued under this subchapter as an entity. . . . Any money judgment under this subchapter against an employee benefit plan shall be enforceable only against the plan as an entity and shall not be enforceable against any other person unless liability against such person is established in his individual capacity under this subchapter.

         Thus, if the Plan wrongly denied Plaintiff his claimed benefits, he could obtain a money judgment against the Plan.

         ERISA § 503 requires plan administrators to provide participants with a “full and fair review” of any adverse benefits determination. 29 U.S.C. § 1133; 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503- 1(f)-(g); Clarke v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., 852 F.Supp.2d 663, 676 (D. Md. 2012). In cases where there is a procedural ERISA violation, the appropriate remedy is to remand the matter to the plan administrator so that a “full and fair review” can be accomplished. Gagliano v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 547 F.3d 230, 240 (4th Cir. 2008). Thus, should Plaintiff prevail on his denial of a full and fair review claim, he may obtain a remand to the plan administrator.

         While the matter may not be free from doubt, the Court finds that the Amended Complaint can be read to provide a plausible claim[3] against PNC and/or Liberty with regard to Plaintiff's procedural ERISA claim. Therefore, that claim is pleaded adequately to avoid dismissal. However, the Court is not, by any means, deciding herein that PNC and/or Liberty would not prevail on the pending cross-motions for summary judgment.

         III. STATUS OF THE PLAN

         As matters now stand, there may be a question whether the Plan is, or is not, a party to the instant case. Furthermore, the Plan is not named as a party to ...


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