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Danko v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 10, 2017

PAULINE DANKO and MARK DANKO, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,


          Rufe, J.

         In this case brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), [1]Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”) has filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint, which Plaintiffs oppose. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


         Plaintiffs, husband and wife, filed this action on their own behalf and on behalf of a proposed class of similarly-situated individuals. The Complaint alleges that Mark Danko, an Amtrak employee, and his wife Pauline receive health insurance coverage through Amtrak's Group Health Plan. Ms. Danko was injured in a motor vehicle accident in 2011, and received benefits under the Plan. Ms. Danko filed a lawsuit against the driver responsible for the accident and settled for the limits available under the driver's policy, and asserted an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim under her own automobile policy, which also settled. Pursuant to the terms of the Plan, Amtrak had a subrogation lien of $7, 893.95 against the settlements so that it could be reimbursed for the medical benefits it had paid.

         Amtrak sought the entire amount of the lien, while Ms. Danko's attorney took the position that the amount should be reduced by the proportionate amount of attorneys' fees expended to obtain the settlements, for a total of $5, 262.63 in satisfaction of the lien. Ms. Danko's attorney sent a check for that amount, which was eventually cashed. From March until June of 2015, Ms. Danko's attorney and a representative from Optum, Amtrak's subrogation administrator, exchanged emails with regard to whether or not Amtrak was entitled to the remaining $2, 631.32, without a clear resolution. The funds remained in the attorney's client security fund. On November 15, 2015, Ms. Danko's attorney wrote to the administrator and to Amtrak, stating his understanding that any administrative prerequisites to suit had been exhausted, and did not receive a response.

         Several months later, Plaintiff filed this suit, alleging that Defendant violated the subrogation terms of the Plan and seeking recovery of benefits due, declaratory and injunctive relief, interest, and attorneys' fees. Upon receipt of the Complaint, Defendant's counsel sent a letter “to confirm that the Plan absolutely and irrevocably waives any and all right to further reimbursement relating to any benefit claims paid to Pauline Danko” in connection with the accident.[2] Defendant requested that Plaintiffs dismiss the lawsuit, which Plaintiffs declined to do without payment of attorneys' fees and costs.[3] Defendant then moved to dismiss, arguing that there is no justiciable case or controversy between the parties.


         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is appropriate where a plaintiff's “plain statement” lacks enough substance to show that he is entitled to relief.[4] In determining whether a motion to dismiss should be granted, the court must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint, accepting the allegations as true and drawing all logical inferences in favor of the non-moving party.[5] Courts are not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.[6] Something more than a mere possibility of a claim must be alleged; a plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[7] The complaint must set forth “direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.”[8]

         A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) may raise either a facial or a factual challenge. A facial challenge alleges a failure to plead jurisdictional prerequisites, whereas a factual challenge alleges that the prerequisites for jurisdiction do not in fact exist.[9] When faced with a factual challenge, the Court may “review evidence outside the pleadings” and make a factual determination as to whether the Court has jurisdiction.[10]


         A. Standing

         Amtrak argues that there is no case or controversy to give Plaintiffs standing to pursue the case. To establish Article III standing, “a plaintiff must show (1) an ‘injury in fact, ' i.e., an actual or imminently threatened injury that is ‘concrete and particularized' to the plaintiff; (2) causation, i.e., traceability of the injury to the actions of the defendant; and (3) redressability of the injury by a favorable decision by the Court.”[11] In the context of a motion to dismiss, “the injury-in-fact element is not Mount Everest. The contours of the injury-in-fact requirement, while not precisely defined, are very generous, requiring only that claimant allege some specific, identifiable trifle of injury.”[12] If the complaint fails to satisfy these requirements, “a federal court does not have subject matter jurisdiction . . .[and] the claim[s] must be dismissed.”[13] In determining whether the allegations of the complaint confer standing upon the plaintiff, “courts apply the standard of reviewing a complaint pursuant to a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.”[14]

         Defendant argues that Plaintiffs lack standing because they have not suffered any injury or loss. The Court disagrees. Plaintiffs allege that Amtrak's lien required that the funds at issue remain in the attorney's trust account, and that they therefore were deprived of the use of the money until after suit was filed. This injury, although slight, is sufficient to confer standing.[15]

Amtrak has not shown that it relinquished its claim to the funds before suit was filed.[16] Instead, the last communication from Optum to Ms. Danko's counsel stated in relevant part that:
As outlined under the Plan's Right of Reimbursement, Amtrak will have a lien on the proceeds of any recovery.
I'm assuming that you have distributed remaining settlement proceeds in this matter to your client. An ERISA Plan can enforce an equitable lien against settlement funds, if they are in the member's possession.
The health plan has a reimbursement right in that settlement and to those settlement funds. The plan is legally permitted to assert such a right ...

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