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Zenuh v. The Prudential Insurance Company of America

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 13, 2017

CATHERINE D. ZENUH, Plaintiff,
v.
THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, SERVICEMEMBERS' AND VETERANS' GROUP LIFE INSURANCE, OFFICE OF SERVICEMEMBERS' GROUP LIFE INSURANCE and TRACY BALLIET, Defendants.

          Mark R. Hornak District Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER RE: ECF NO. 15

          MAUREEN P. KELLY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Catherine Zenuh (“Plaintiff”), [1] filed the instant action against Defendants The Prudential Insurance Company of America (“Prudential”), Servicemembers' and Veterans' Group Life Insurance (“SGLI/VGLI”), Office of Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (“OSGLI”) (collectively, “the Defendant-Insurers”), and Tracy Smith (“Smith”), [2] in an effort to recoup the proceeds from her late son's life insurance policy.

         Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss submitted on behalf of Defendant Smith. ECF No. 15. For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         According to the Complaint, Plaintiff's late son, Martin W. Zenuh (“Martin”), was insured under a life insurance policy (“the Policy”) issued through Defendant-Insurers since approximately 1996. Plaintiff, who apparently provided financial assistance to Martin to maintain the Policy, was designated as Martin's beneficiary. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 8, 9. Following Martin's death on April 29, 2016, Plaintiff contacted Prudential, the administrator of the Policy, in order to file a claim for the insurance proceeds and was informed that, shortly before his death, Martin had changed his beneficiary designation from Plaintiff to Defendant Smith and that Prudential intended to pay the $50, 000.00 life insurance proceeds to Smith. Id. ¶¶ 10-13, 19.

         Plaintiff alleges that prior to his death, Martin suffered from multiple medical conditions and was under the influence of a significant number of drugs which, combined with Martin's admitted use of marijuana and cocaine, impaired his decision-making ability and made him susceptible to the influence of others, including Smith. Id. ¶¶ 14, 15. Plaintiff contends that at the time the beneficiary designation was changed, Martin lacked the capacity to understand the nature of his actions and was unduly influenced by Smith to change his beneficiary. Id. ¶ 16.

         Plaintiff commenced this action on November 7, 2016, bringing claims for breach of contract against the Defendant-Insurers (Count I); tortious interference with contract against Defendant Smith (Count II); and a claim for declaratory judgment against all Defendants (Count III). ECF No. 1. On January 4, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal as to Defendants OSGLI and SGLI/VGLI, ECF No. 4, and on April 11, 2017, the Court issued a Consent Order for Deposit by Interpleader according to which Prudential deposited the Death Benefit owed under the Policy, i.e., $49, 982.00 and any applicable interest, with the Clerk of Court and all three Defendant-Insurers were released from all liability to Plaintiff and/or Smith relating to the Policy and were dismissed from the case. ECF No. 27. As such, Smith is the only Defendant remaining in the case.

         Smith filed a Motion to Dismiss on February 9, 2017, ECF No. 15, to which Plaintiff filed a Memorandum of Law in Opposition on March 3, 2017. ECF No. 22. Accordingly, the Motion is ripe for review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In assessing the sufficiency of the complaint pursuant to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Odd v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202, 205 (3d Cir. 2008). The Court, however, need not accept bald assertions or inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See Cal. Pub. Employees' Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004), citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id., citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has held that a complaint is properly dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) where it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” id. at 570, or where the factual content does not allow the court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). See Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that, under Twombly, “labels, conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not suffice but, rather, the complaint “must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct” and that are sufficient “to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s] of his claim”).

         III. DISCUSSION

         As previously discussed, Plaintiff has brought a single claim for tortious interference with contract against Defendant Smith. Smith argues that the claim should be dismissed as Plaintiff has failed to state a plausible claim for tortious interference and, indeed, is unable to do so.

         The law is not in dispute. In order to succeed on a claim for tortious ...


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