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Seth J. Diener, Guardian Ad Litem of Estate of Joseph Thomas v. the Renfrew Centers

September 22, 2011


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


Currently pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss by Defendant Joseph T. Mancuso, III. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted without prejudice to Plaintiff's further amendment of the Complaint.


According to the facts set forth in the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Seth J. Diener is the Guardian of Joseph Thomas Mancuso, IV ("Tom"), a minor. (Compl. ¶ 1.) On October 7, 2010, Tom's mother, Lisa Marie Mancuso committed suicide and was survived by her estranged husband, Joseph T. Mancuso, III ("Mancuso" or "Defendant"), her son Tom, her mother Karen Rose Diener, and her adult siblings Seth Diener, Jason William Diener, and Dierdre Ann Diener. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) By Court Order of November 16, 2010, Plaintiff Seth Diener ("Diener" or "Plaintiff") was appointed temporary fiduciary for his sister's estate to represent it against Defendant's claim for life insurance proceeds. (Id. ¶ 9.)

At the time of her death, Lisa Marie Mancuso was the owner of an employer-sponsored life insurance policy, underwritten by Defendant Life Insurance Company of North America ("LINA"),*fn1 and purchased through Defendant The Renfrew Centers, Inc. ("The Renfrew Centers"). (Id. ¶ 10; Stipulation of Aug. 4, 2011 at ¶ 5.) The life insurance policy is listed as Policy No. FLX-962473 (the "Policy"). (Id.) All premiums due on the Policy were paid in full up until the time of Lisa Marie Mancuso's death. (Id. ¶ 11.) LINA thereafter received both timely written notice and satisfactory proofs of death. (Id. ¶ 12.)

Pursuant to the current, written Policy designations, LINA is obligated to pay the insurance proceeds to Defendant Mancuso. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Prior to her death, however, Lisa Marie Mancuso commenced divorce proceedings against her husband, which remain pending in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. (Id. ¶ 16.) Although a divorce decree has not yet issued, grounds for divorce have been conclusively established. (Id. ¶ 17.)

On June 1, 2011, Plaintiff, on behalf of his nephew Tom, filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. Before any answer or motion was filed, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint. Via this Complaint, Plaintiff sought declaratory injunctive relief, as follows: (1) a declaratory judgment that LINA is instructed to issue payment of the decedent's life insurance proceeds directly to the Estate of Thomas Mancuso, a minor; (2) a declaratory judgment that Defendant, Joseph T. Mancuso, III, has no right or entitlement to the life insurance proceeds under the subject Policy; (3) an order enjoining LINA from distributing the proceeds of the Policy except upon Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, pursuant to docket number 2010-05157; and (4) other relief including attorney's fees, costs, and disbursements. (Id. at Wherefore Cl.)

On July 27, 2011, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiff responded on August 22, 2011, and Defendant submitted a Reply Brief on August 29, 2011, making this Motion ripe for the Court's consideration.


Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized that "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 the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. Following these basic dictates, the Supreme Court, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), subsequently defined a two-pronged approach to a court's review of a motion to dismiss. "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949. Thus, although "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 1950. Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. A complaint alleges, but does not show, an entitlement to relief when the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct. Id.; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232-34 (3d Cir. 2008) (holding that: (1) factual allegations of complaint must provide notice to defendant; (2) complaint must allege facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct; and (3) the complaint's "'factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555)).

Notwithstanding these new dictates, the basic tenets of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review have remained static. Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. Civ.A.08-626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Jul. 15, 2008). The general rules of pleading still require only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain detailed factual allegations. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. Further, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Finally, the court must "determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Pinkerton v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).


The present issue before the Court is whether Plaintiff has adequately stated a claim for entitlement to benefits under the Policy. In support of his Motion to Dismiss, Defendant argues that, as the designated beneficiary under the Policy, he is clearly entitled to the proceeds and that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint fails to set forth a valid claim for distributing them otherwise. Plaintiff, in response, offers three arguments. First, he claims that, although failing to strictly comply with the change of beneficiary procedures under the Policy, Lisa Marie Mancuso specifically intended and made every reasonable effort to change the beneficiary under her life insurance policy. Second, Plaintiff contends that prior to Mrs. Mancuso's death, grounds for divorce had been established in the pending divorce proceedings, meaning that the Court of Common Pleas for Montgomery County retains jurisdiction to equitably distribute all assets remaining in her estate. Finally, Plaintiff asserts that because Defendant pushed Lisa Marie Mancuso "to the despair that resulted in her suicide," he should not be entitled to recover under Pennsylvania's Slayer's Act, 20 Pa.C.S. § 8801. The Court considers each argument individually.

A. Whether the Amended Complaint Alleges Facts Supporting a Reasonable Effort by Lisa Marie ...

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