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Wartella v. Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 7, 2017

JOHN M. WARTELLA, Plaintiff
v.
THE GUARDIAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBERT D. MARIANI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson (Doc. 16) in which Judge Carlson recommends that the Defendant's motion to dismiss Counts I, II and III of the Plaintiffs complaint be granted as time-barred.

         Plaintiff, John M. Wartella, filed objections to the R&R on June 9, 2016. (Doc. 17).

         The R&R describes the dispute before the Court as one "concerning the timeliness of Wartella's complaint, " noting that it "plays out against a factual background where it is undisputed that Mr. Wartella's employment with Guardian came to an end in May 2007, yet the plaintiff did not bring this lawsuit until some seven years later, in May 2014." (Doc. 16, at 1).

         The Magistrate Judge, in determining that Counts I, II and III of Plaintiffs Complaint should be dismissed as barred by the applicable 4-year statute of limitations, correctly enunciated the rule in this Circuit with respect to the dismissal of a complaint as barred by the statute of limitations when that defense is raised in a motion to dismiss:

[I]n this circuit...., we permit a limitations defense to be raised by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) 'only if "the time alleged in the statement of a claim shows that the cause of action has not been brought within the statute of limitations."' Id. (quoting Hanna v. U.S. Veterans' Admin. Hosp., 514 F.2d 1092, 1094 (3d Cir. 1975)). However, “(I]f the bar is not apparent on the face of the complaint, then it may not afford the basis for a dismissal of the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).'" Id. (quoting Bethel v. Jendoco Constr. Corp., 570 F.2d 1168, 1174 (3d Cir. 1978))." Schmidt v. Skolas. 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014).

(Id. at 8-9).

         After careful review of the Plaintiffs Complaint, the R&R and the briefs submitted in support of and in opposition to Plaintiffs objections, this Court cannot say with the requisite certainty needed for the issuance of an order dismissing Counts I, II and III of Plaintiffs Complaint with prejudice that the bar of the statute of limitations clearly appears on the face of Plaintiffs complaint. At the same time, the Plaintiffs complaint lacks the necessary allegations to allow it to proceed into the discovery phase of this litigation. Accordingly, Counts I, II and III of Plaintiffs complaint will be dismissed but such dismissal shall be without prejudice and with the right afforded to Plaintiff to amend his complaint in an attempt to state a cause of action not subject to dismissal as having been filed beyond the statute of limitations.

         The Allegations of Plaintiff's Complaint

         Mr. Wartella alleges he was hired by Guardian as a field representative on or about January 1, 1986. (Doc. 1-3, at¶6). He alleges he entered into an employment agreement with Guardian (id. at ¶ 8), but in a footnote states that he is "no longer in possession of the employment agreement" and that "Guardian has been unable to provide any such agreement executed by Mr. Wartella". (Id. at n.1).

         Wartella then alleges that pursuant to the employment agreement he was "to be paid a monthly, fixed salary by Guardian, " and against this fixed salary, Wartella alleges he was "entitled to a commission on each new policy sold and each policy renewed." (Id. at ¶¶ 9, 10).

         Wartella then asserts that, again pursuant to the employment agreement which is referred to but produced by neither party to this action, "Wartella was entitled to continue to receive his commission for all policy renewals throughout his employment and ten (10) years afterward, regardless of the reason his employment with Guardian ended." (Id. at ¶ 11).

         Wartella further alleges that he was provided another benefit by Guardian, specifically the option to purchase a group disability insurance plan, which "could be purchased with either pre-tax or post-tax dollars." (Id. at ¶¶ 12, 13).

         Plaintiff then alleges that he "elected to purchase a group long-term disability insurance plan (the 'Disability Insurance') with post-tax dollars." (Doc. 1-3, at ¶ 14).

         Mr. Wartella recites in his complaint the medical issues which led to his placement on short-term disability with Guardian for a period of five months, his return to work thereafter and his inability to perform his duties for Guardian, which resulted in him again being placed on short term disability. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-22).

         Mr. Wartella alleges he remained on short term disability "until in or about 2007, when his six (6) months of short-term disability was exhausted." (Id. at ¶ 23).

         The complaint then alleges in paragraph 24 of his complaint: "Upon exhaustion of his short-term disability, in or about May, 2007, Guardian terminated Mr. Wartella." Mr. Wartella then alleges that at the time of his termination, he was receiving commissions on "life and disability renewals which produced earnings to him in excess of $160, 000.00 annually." (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26).

         After being terminated, Wartella began to collect the disability insurance which he had purchased, (Id. at ¶ 28).

         Wartella alleges that upon receiving group disability benefits, 55% of those benefits were reported as being paid with pre-tax dollars and were, therefore, taxable. (Id. at ¶ 29).

         He also alleges that he applied for Social Security as required by Guardian since the Social Security benefits "would serve as an offset of his Disability Insurance benefits, and, therefore, these payments were solely ...


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