United States District Court, D. Maryland
Xinis United States District Judge
in this action is a motion for summary judgment filed by
Defendant Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS). ECF No. 37.
The issues are fully briefed, and the Court now rules
pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 because no hearing is necessary.
For the following reasons, IIVS' motion is GRANTED.
otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. Damiano
was employed by IIVS as an Accounting Assistant/HR
Coordinator from February 3, 2014, until her termination on
September 9, 2015. ECF No. 1 at 3-4. IIVS maintained a group
health plan, which included Group Long-Term
(“LTD”) and Short-Term Disability Insurance Plans
(“STD, ” and collectively, “Disability
Plans”) for the benefit of its employees. Id.
Paychex Insurance Agency, Inc. (“Paychex”)
administered the insurance benefits of the Disability Plans.
The Disability Plans are governed by the Employee Retirement
Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Id.
September 9, 2015, IIVS presented Damiano with a letter
terminating her employment effective immediately and setting
out the terms of the termination (“Termination
Letter”). ECF No. 1 at 4. The Termination Letter stated
that the severance package included “[c]ontinuation of
current health and disability insurance benefits paid in full
by IIVS, through October 31, 2015.” ECF No. 15-3 at 5;
see also ECF No. 1 at 4. IIVS' officers arranged
the continuation of all benefits as “a gesture in
recognition of [Damiano's] time with us.” Dep. of
Erin Hill (“Hill Dep.”), ECF No. 42-1 at 38;
see also Dep. of Rodger D. Curren (“Curren
Dep”), ECF No. 42-2 at 18 (stating that the severance
package “included the healthcare benefits and
disability benefits because we thought that . . . would
recognize the good service”). Prior to firing Damiano,
IIVS consulted with the service provider of IIVS'
insurance benefits, Paychex, to confirm that coverage could
be continued as described in the Termination Letter.
See Hill Dep., ECF No. 42-1 at 39-42; Curren Dep.,
ECF No. 42-2 at 20-21.
October 3, 2015, Damiano was hospitalized and underwent
emergency brain surgery. ECF Nos. 1 at ¶ 26 & 37-3
at 56. On October 8, 2015, Damiano received
COBRAcorrespondence notifying her that her
insurance coverage under the IIVS plan would end on October
31, 2015, as stated in the Termination Letter. ECF No. 15-2
at 5. Damiano, assuming that the Termination Letter and
October 8 correspondence concerning insurance coverage were
correct, contacted IIVS through counsel on October 23, 2015,
to seek STD and LTD benefits. See ECF Nos. 42-8
& 37-3 at 135. IIVS told Damiano's counsel that,
contrary to the terms of the Termination Letter and the
October 8 letter, Damiano would not be eligible for
disability benefits. ECF Nos. 42-8 & 37-3 at 135.
thereafter, Damiano received a second COBRA notice, dated
October 23, 2015, notifying her that “coverage under
the Plan will end on September 9, 2015, ” the date of
Damiano's termination, 44 days earlier than she was led
to believe. See ECF No. 37-3 at 97. Damiano
completed, signed, and returned a COBRA Election/Waiver form
on October 26, 2015. ECF No. 37-3 at 107-10. The form did not
include a place to sign up for COBRA continuation coverage
for disability benefits. Id.
submitted an application for LTD benefits from Humana on
February 12, 2016. See Damiano Dep. at 67-76. After
Humana requested additional information from her attending
physicians and employer to complete the LTD application,
Damiano did not pursue her application any further because
she “realized that [she] was . . . no longer employed
with IIVS” and “just held on to the documents
because [she] wasn't able to send them to the
company.” See Damiano Dep. at 76. She did not
return the application, speak with her physicians regarding
the application, or have any further contact with Humana or
IIVS about disability benefits. Damiano Dep. at 75-78, 81-83,
96-103. Damiano received unemployment benefits from the State
of Maryland on April 23, 2016, through September 2016.
Damiano Dep. at 103-04, 193-195. In late October of 2016,
Damiano began looking for new employment. Damiano Dep. at
filed this suit on March 28, 2016, alleging claims against
IIVS and Paychex for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA
§ 502(a)(3), statutory remedies for violation of COBRA,
and breach of contract. ECF No. 1. IIVS and Paychex filed a
joint motion to dismiss, ECF No. 15, which was granted as to
the breach of contract claims as preempted by ERISA, and
denied as to all other counts. ECF No. 21. On July 26, 2017,
the parties stipulated to dismissal of the COBRA and unpaid
dental benefits claims against IIVS and all claims against
Paychex, which this Court granted, ECF Nos. 35 & 36. As a
result, only Damiano's ERISA breach of fiduciary duty
claim against IIVS remains.
argues that summary judgment in its favor is warranted
because Damiano has failed to generate sufficient evidence
that its misrepresentations were material or that the
misrepresentations caused her “actual harm.” ECF
No. 37. In the alternative, IIVS argues that Damiano cannot
show that she was disabled within the terms of the disability
policy, did not exhaust her claims, and because her claim is
barred by judicial estoppel. Id.; see also
ECF No. 43. The Court addresses each argument in turn.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing predecessor to current Rule
56(a)). The party moving for summary judgment bears the
burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine dispute of
material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398
U.S. 144, 157 (1970). If sufficient evidence exists for a
reasonable jury to render a verdict in favor of the
non-moving party, summary judgment must be denied. See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). The facts, and all inferences drawn from the facts,
must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007);
Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008).
The opposing party cannot rest on the mere allegations or
denials of her pleading but instead must, by affidavit or
other evidentiary showing, point to facts that give rise to a
material issue in dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1);
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.