United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
CATHERINE D. ZENUH, Plaintiff,
THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, SERVICEMEMBERS' AND VETERANS' GROUP LIFE INSURANCE, OFFICE OF SERVICEMEMBERS' GROUP LIFE INSURANCE and TRACY BALLIET, Defendants.
R. Hornak District Judge.
OPINION AND ORDER RE: ECF NO. 15
MAUREEN P. KELLY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Catherine Zenuh (“Plaintiff”),  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”),  in an effort to recoup the proceeds
from her late son's life insurance policy.
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.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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.
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.
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.
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
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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”).
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.
is not in dispute. In order to succeed on a claim for