United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
KIMBERLY P. GORDON, Plaintiff,
CIGNA CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.
J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Kimberly P. Gordon has sued Defendant CIGNA Corporation
(“Defendant”) for ERISA violations and breach of
contract arising from its handling of her deceased
husband's life insurance benefits. ECF No. 1. This
is Plaintiff's second such lawsuit against Defendant in
this Court, having previously unsuccessfully sued Defendant
(along with her husband's former employers) in 2016.
See Gordon v. CIGNA Corp., et al., No. 16-RWT-238.
Now pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss, ECF No. 14, arguing that Plaintiff's claims are
time-barred and precluded pursuant to the doctrine of res
judicata. The Motion has been fully briefed, and the
Court heard arguments from the parties at a June 19, 2018
Motion Hearing. ECF No. 26. For the reasons that follow,
Defendant's Motion is granted.
Kimberly Gordon is the surviving wife of the deceased Stephen
Gordon, who worked for Oil Price Information Service, LLC
(“OPIS”) from March 25, 2013 to October 27, 2013.
ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 15, 30. During this time, Mr. Gordon
was provided with various employee benefits, including an
automatic $50, 000 in life insurance from OPIS' parent
company, UCG Holdings, and supplemental life insurance from
CIGNA, of which he enrolled in a $250, 000 coverage plan.
Id. ¶¶ 17, 18, 26. Mr. Gordon died in
January of 2014, and Plaintiff submitted a benefits claim to
CIGNA for $300, 000. Id. ¶¶ 32, 34. In a
letter dated September 5, 2014, Defendant notified Plaintiff
that her claim was approved for $150, 000, and that the money
had been placed in a “Cignassurance” account, a
“retained asset account, ” id.
¶¶ 37-38, with an “attractive”
interest rate “comparable to a money market checking
account.” ECF No. 14-3 at 2.The letter explained that the
interest rate was adjusted weekly, was based upon “the
previous week's Bank Rate Monitor Index (BRM) or any
successor money market index, ” and that she could call
a toll-free number to receive the current rate. Id.
at 4. The letter further explained that Plaintiff could
“keep [her] money in this account for as long as [she]
like[d], ” or “can write a draft for the total
amount of the account at any time.” Id. at
2-3. On September 12, 2014, Plaintiffs lawyer sent a response
letter demanding payment of the funds in full and noting her
objection to the amount she was approved for and to the funds
being placed in a Cignassurance account. ECF No. 22 at 6-7.
On September 23, 2014, Plaintiff received a “closing
statement” from Defendant, which included interest at
the rate of 0.110%. ECF No. 1 ¶ 38.
January 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against
Defendant, UCG and OPIS over the fund disparity, arguing that
she was entitled to the full $300, 000 she requested. See
Gordon v. CIGNA Corp., 890 F.3d 463 (4th Cir. 2018) (the
parties refer to this case as “Gordon I,
” which the Court adopts). In Gordon I,
summary judgment was granted in favor of Defendants, which
the Plaintiff appealed and the Fourth Circuit affirmed.
Id. On September 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed this
Complaint against Defendant, alleging violations of ERISA and
breach of contract. ECF No.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant engaged in
prohibited transactions and breached its fiduciary duty by
placing the Plaintiff's funds in a Cignassurance account
and by setting the interest rate applied to the account. ECF
No. 1 ¶ 53. On November 22, 2017, Defendant filed a
Motion to Dismiss, alleging that Plaintiff's ERISA claims
are time-barred, barred by the doctrine of res
judicata, and fail to state a claim, and that her breach
of contract claim is preempted by ERISA and time-barred. ECF
STANDARD OF REVIEW
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a complaint
must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Threadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds'
of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause
of action's elements will not do.”)).
purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) “is to test the sufficiency of
a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the
facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of
defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville,
464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). When deciding a motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6), a court “must accept as true all
of the factual allegations contained in the complaint,
” and must “draw all reasonable inferences [from
those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du
Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637
F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted). The Court need not, however, accept
unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles
County Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989),
legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Papasan
v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or conclusory
factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events.
United Black Firefighters of Norfolk v. Hirst, 604
F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).
argues that Plaintiff's claims are barred by both the
applicable statute of limitations and the doctrine of res
judicata. The Court will turn to those defenses after
considering which documents it may consider in assessing
Consideration of Documents
as a general rule, evidence extrinsic to the Complaint should
not be considered at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage, the Fourth
Circuit has held that when a defendant attaches a document to
its motion to dismiss, “a court may consider it in
determining whether to dismiss the complaint [if] it was
integral to and explicitly relied on in the complaint and
[if] the plaintiffs do not challenge its authenticity.”
Phillips v. LCI Int'l Inc., 190 F.3d 609, 618
(4th Cir. 1999); see also Parrino v. FHP, Inc., 146
F.3d 699, 705-06 (9th Cir. 1998). In American
Chiropractic Association v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., the
Fourth Circuit reasoned that “[t]he rationale
underlying this exception is that the primary problem raised
by looking to documents outside the complaint-lack of notice
to the plaintiff-is dissipated where plaintiff has actual
notice . . . and has relied upon these documents in framing
the complaint.” 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004)
(quotations omitted). The Fourth Circuit has previously cited
with approval Second Circuit cases for the proposition that
“a document is integral to the complaint where the
complaint relies heavily upon its terms and effect.”
Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 166
(4th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting
Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d
Cir. 2002)). On the other hand, if the complaint includes
only a few quotes from a document and the plaintiff's
claims “do not turn on, nor are they otherwise based
on, statements contained” in the extrinsic document,
then the document is not integral to the complaint.
Id. Courts in this Circuit have reasoned that an
integral document is one that by its “very existence,
and not the mere information it contains, gives rise to the
legal rights asserted.” Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc.
v. Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC, 794 F.Supp.2d 602, 611
(D. Md. 2011). As examples, “courts have found integral
the allegedly fraudulent document in a fraud action, the
allegedly libelous magazine article in a libel action, and
the documents that constitute the core of the parties'
contractual relationship in a breach of contract
dispute.” Id. n.4.
the Court considers at the 12(b)(6) stage the September 5,
2014 letter that Plaintiff received from CIGNA. ECF No. 14-3.
Plaintiff's Complaint “relies heavily upon its
terms and effect, ” as she describes the letter in
detail, quoting and paraphrasing extensively from the
document. See ECF No. 1 ¶ 36. Furthermore,
there is no concern that Plaintiff lacks actual notice of
this document; she received a copy of the document directly,
the document was attached as an exhibit to Defendant's
Motion to Dismiss, and Plaintiff does not challenge the
authenticity of this document. ECF No. 14-3. Thus, in