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Zoa K. Reber v. Brush Wellman

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


January 24, 2011

ZOA K. REBER,
PLAINTIFF
v.
BRUSH WELLMAN, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

MEMORANDUM

The plaintiff brings this action against her deceased father's employer and an insurance company which issued and administered a group life insurance policy on her father's life. Because the policy was part of the employer's welfare benefit plan, it is regulated under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The employer has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff has failed to respond to the motion, and the time for responding has expired. For the reasons which follow, I will grant the uncontested motion in its entirety, and dismiss the defendant employer from the case.

I. BACKGROUND

Robert S. Reber was employed by Defendant Brush Wellman, Inc.*fn1 See Compl. ¶¶ 2-3, 9. As part of his employer's welfare benefit plan, Mr. Reber's life was insured by a group policy for the amount of $50,000 issued and administered by Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Id. ¶¶ 4, 10, 13. Unfortunately, Mr. Reber died an accidental death as the result of multiple head trauma suffered in an auto collision on August 15, 2005. Id. ¶ 8.

Plaintiff Zoa Reber alleges in her complaint that in 2005, her father obtained a change of beneficiary form from his employer, and expressed his desire to name her as the sole beneficiary. Id. ¶ 14. On May 10, 2005, Mr. Reber signed the change of beneficiary form, but did nothing further to implement the change in the three months from the time the form was executed until his accidental death on August 15, 2005. Id. ¶¶ 8, 15, 16.

Miss Reber submitted a claim requesting payment of the policy benefits to her pursuant to her father's execution of the change of beneficiary form. Id. ¶ 17. Defendant Metropolitan Life reviewed the claim and denied it initially and upon appeal in late 2006, because the plaintiff was not the beneficiary on record. Id. ¶ 19.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id.; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which she bases her claim. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 564. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 897 F. Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

III. DISCUSSION

The defendant employer filed this motion to dismiss arguing that it should be dismissed as a defendant in this case because there is no allegation in the complaint of any actionable behavior on its part. I agree.

The complaint does not allege that the employer owed or breached a duty to the plaintiff or to her father. Furthermore, there is no claim that the employer failed to forward any documentation to the insurance company in a timely manner. Defendant Metropolitan Life was the administrator of the policy, and as such was solely responsible for resolving claims made against the policy and paying out policy proceeds. There is no allegation suggesting that the employer could be held responsible for any of the claims decisions made by Defendant Metropolitan Life.

A complaint "must satisfy . . . the simple requirements of Rule 8(a)."*fn2

Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 513 (2002). Following the Supreme Court's decision in Twombly, Rule 8(a) now requires that the facts in a complaint plausibly suggest that the pleader is entitled to relief. Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter Sch., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008). Accordingly, to state a claim, a plaintiff must state enough factual matter, taken as true, to suggest the required element, which does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008).

Although I do not have the benefit of a response from the plaintiff to this motion, I must agree with the defendant employer that the complaint is woefully insufficient under Rule 8(a) to state a claim against it upon which relief can be granted. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 564. Accordingly, I will grant the employer's motion to dismiss in its entirety.*fn3

An appropriate Order follows.


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