The opinion of the court was delivered by: Louis Pollak, District Judge
Currently before this court is Plaintiff Barbara M. O'Shea's motion for
voluntary dismissal of her lawsuit against the defendants. Dr. O'Shea
asks this court to exercise its discretion under Rule 41(a)(2) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to order her case dismissed without
prejudice. Defendants Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, a/k/a
MONY Life Insurance Company ("Mutual Life") and Disability Management
Services, Inc. ("DMS") oppose such a dismissal. Because amending or
supplementing the original complaint would more efficiently effect Dr.
O'Shea's sensible procedural outcome, I will deny the motion in order to
provide her the opportunity to proceed in that manner.
In the years 1985 and 1987, Dr. O'Shea, then a practicing physician,
entered into a series of four disability income insurance policies with
Mutual Life. In 1996, Dr. O'Shea developed a disabling condition known as
fibromyalgia. Dr. O'Shea alleges that this condition rendered her unable
to carry out the work required of her as a physician. She therefore
sought and received total disability benefits under the policies, or
$5,300.00 per month, through the month of December, 2000.
In July, 2000, Dr. O'Shea, at the request of DMS, underwent an
independent medical examination, performed by a Dr. James Udell. Dr.
Udell confirmed that Dr. O'Shea suffered from fibromyalgia, but "could
not conclude that the Plaintiff was disabled to the point of being unable
to perform her work as a medical doctor." Complaint at ¶ 9.
Following Dr. Udell's examination, the defendants reduced by 50% the
payments made to Dr. O'Shea, such that she received only $2,650.00 per
month, effective January, 2001. Id. ¶ 9. Dr. O'Shea now further
alleges, in the currently pending motion, that since May, 2001, when this
suit was filed, the defendants have ceased paying any benefits whatsoever
on the insurance policies.
On May 22, 2001, Dr. O'Shea brought a diversity action against Mutual
Life and DMS, alleging that her benefits under the four insurance
policies have been improperly withheld. In her complaint, Dr. O'Shea
asserted a claim for breach of contract, an equitable claim for specific
performance, and a claim for bad faith.
In her breach of contract claim, Dr. O'Shea claimed that she was
entitled to damages in the amount of $2,650.00 per month (the difference
between the full $5,300.00 monthly benefit and the $2,650.00 amount she
was being paid at the time she filed the complaint). The complaint sought
$2,650.00 per month for the period spanning from January, 2001 —
when defendants first reduced the benefit payments — through May,
2017 — when Dr. O'Shea will attain 65 years of age and the payments
under the policies are to cease — for a total of $522,050.00. In
her equity claim, Dr. O'Shea sought specific performance of defendants'
obligations under the
policies, retroactive to January, 2001. Finally,
Dr. O'Shea alleged a claim for bad faith, seeking compensatory and
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), defendants moved
for dismissal of the claim for breach of contract to the extent that it
included future damages, and for dismissal of both the equity claim and
the claim for bad faith in their entirety. This court, by order of
January 18, 2002, granted the defendants' motion in part, dismissing Dr.
O'Shea's equitable claims as well as her claim for breach of contract to
the extent it was asserted in support of future relief. In reliance upon
applicable Pennsylvania law set forth in Summers v. Prudential Insurance
Company of America, 179 A. 78 (Pa. 1935),*fn1 the order held
specifically that the breach of contract claim "survives defendants'
motion insofar as it seeks only such payments as were allegedly due Dr.
O'Shea at the time she filed her complaint, on May 22, 2001."
Dr. O'Shea alleges in her motion for voluntary dismissal that the
defendants have ceased making the $2650.00 reduced benefit payments to
her, such that she has received no payment whatsoever on her policy since
she instituted her lawsuit. Therefore, it is claimed, the damages to the
plaintiff are now accruing at the rate of $5,300.00 with each passing
month, rather than the $2,650.00 originally alleged in the complaint.
So that she might recoup the not-insubstantial sum of unpaid benefits
that has accumulated since May 22, 2001, Dr. O'Shea filed the motion now
before this court. Her intent is to have the action dismissed without
prejudice, then to re-file the suit (with updated calculations of damages)
in an effort to be eligible for a higher damage award that would not run
afoul of Summers. Other than the additional months' worth of damages
claimed, the subsequent suit envisioned by Dr. O'Shea would differ from
the existing one only in that she will seek to add a claim for a
declaratory judgment settling the rights of the parties with respect to
the four insurance contracts.
This court is aware of the odd predicament in which the Summers
precedent places a plaintiff, and is not averse to granting the current
motion. The intent of the order of January 18, 2002, was not to sever
arbitrarily plaintiff's right to recover damages beyond the filing of her
complaint, but rather to obviate the need for speculation regarding
future damages that Dr. O'Shea will not have yet incurred when judgment
is eventually rendered.