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Gordon v. Cigna Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 11, 2018

KIMBERLY P. GORDON, Plaintiff,
v.
CIGNA CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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.[1] 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.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiff 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, ”[3] id. ¶¶ 37-38, with an “attractive” interest rate “comparable to a money market checking account.” ECF No. 14-3 at 2.[4]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.

         On 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.

         I. 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 No. 14-1.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To 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.”)).

         The 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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant 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 Defendant's Motion.

         A. Consideration of Documents

         Although, 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.

         Here, 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 ΒΆ 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 ...


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