United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the court is the defendants', Volkswagen Group of
America, Inc. and Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston, Rule
12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [ECF No. 23]. The
plaintiff, Karen Turner, filed an Opposition [ECF No. 29],
and the defendants filed a Reply [ECF No. 31]. The matter is
now ripe for decision. For the reasons stated herein, the
defendants' Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Group of America, Inc. (“Volkswagen”) employed
Keith Turner (“Mr. Turner”), the plaintiff's
deceased husband, from 1984 to 1985. Compl. ¶¶ 7-9.
At that time, Volkswagen sponsored a group disability
insurance plan for its employees. Id. at ¶ 8.
Mr. Turner began receiving long-term disability
(“LTD”) benefits through Volkswagen's group
disability insurance plan in 1985 after an accident in the
course of his employment rendered him quadriplegic.
Id. at ¶¶ 9, 11. Mr. Turner continued
receiving LTD benefits until he died in February 2016.
Id. at ¶¶ 11, 16. In addition to
disability benefits, Volkswagen also offered a group life
insurance plan through which Mr. Turner purchased a life
insurance policy before his death. Id. at ¶ 10.
2011 to 2016, he received confirmation statements from
Volkswagen indicating that he was covered under the
company's group life insurance plan for $52, 000.
Id. at ¶ 13. Early in 2016, Mr. Turner received
a notification that Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston
(“Liberty”) would serve as the provider of the
life insurance coverage previously provided by Volkswagen and
that his coverage would remain the same. Id. at
¶ 15. Indeed, prior to Mr. Turner's death, neither
Volkswagen nor Liberty indicated any alteration to Mr.
Turner's insurance plans. Id.
Mr. Turner died, the plaintiff provided Volkswagen with a
copy of Mr. Turner's death certificate in an attempt to
receive benefits. Id. at ¶¶ 16-18. In
response to the plaintiff's submission, Volkswagen sent
the plaintiff a condolence letter on February 29, 2016,
stating that she was eligible only for the continuance of her
husband's health and welfare benefits through COBRA.
Id. at ¶ 19; Admin. R. Ex. A, at ¶ 0001
[ECF No. 21-2]. In response to this letter, prior counsel for
the plaintiff sent Volkswagen a letter on March 14, 2016,
asking it to advise whether Mr. Turner was covered by life
insurance at the time of his death. Compl. ¶ 20; Obj.
Admin. R. 3 [ECF No. 26]. After receiving the letter from
plaintiff's counsel, Volkswagen responded with its own
letter on March 31, 2016, (“March 31 Letter”)
stating that the plaintiff was not entitled to benefits under
its life insurance policy. Answer Ex. A, at 1 [ECF No. 13-1].
Notably, although the March 31 Letter included a copy of
Volkswagen's benefits plan and urged the plaintiff to
contact the plan administrator if she had questions, the
letter itself omitted any mention of the benefit plan's
internal appellate procedure. Id.
plaintiff's current counsel sent a letter on June 14,
2016, (“June 14 Letter”) that indicated the
plaintiff intended to appeal the life insurance
determination. Answer Ex. A, at 38-39. In response to the
plaintiff's June 14 Letter, the defendants' counsel
wrote a letter on July 14, 2016, (“July 14
Letter”) indicating that the plaintiff was procedurally
barred from appealing the March 31, 2016, benefits denial
because the benefit plan's sixty-day appeal period had
lapsed. Id. at 42-43. The plaintiff never attempted
to file an appeal for the denial of her life insurance
benefits through the benefits plan's internal appellate
Liberty called the plaintiff several times and left
voicemails indicating that a survivor benefit existed under
Mr. Turner's LTD benefit plan. Compl. ¶ 30. However,
after the plaintiff left a voicemail inquiring about the
survivor benefit, Liberty called the plaintiff and left a
voicemail informing her that no survivor benefit existed.
Id. at ¶¶ 31-32. In reply to that
voicemail, the plaintiff's counsel sent a letter
notifying the defendants of her intent to appeal the denial
of her survivor benefit. Answer Ex. B, at 1-2. The
defendants' counsel responded by sending a formal letter
indicating that the plaintiff's survivor benefit had been
denied and restarting the time-period during the which the
plaintiff could appeal the benefits plan's determination.
Id. at 5-6. Unlike the letter denying her life
insurance claim, the letter denying the plaintiff's
survivor benefit specifically referenced the benefit
plan's internal appellate procedure. Id. Despite
the letter's reference, the plaintiff never attempted to
use the benefit plan's internal appellate procedure from
the denial of her survivor benefit claim.
the denial of her benefits, the plaintiff brought a lawsuit
asserting three causes of action under the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”).
Specifically, the plaintiff asserted claims for (1) wrongful
denial of her life insurance claim, (2) wrongful denial of
her survivor benefit claim, and (3) breach of fiduciary duty.
Rule 12(c) judgment on the pleadings procedure primarily is
addressed to . . . dispos[e] of cases on the basis of the
underlying substantive merits of the parties' claims and
defenses as they are revealed in the formal pleadings.”
5C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal
Practice and Procedure § 1367 (3d ed. 2004). A
motion under 12(c) is useful when only questions of law
[A] Rule 12(c) motion is designed to provide a means of
disposing of cases when the material facts are not in dispute
. . . and a judgment on the merits can be achieved by
focusing on the content of the competing pleadings, exhibits
thereto, matters incorporated by reference in the pleadings,
[and] whatever is central or integral to the claim for relief
or defense . . . .
ruling on a 12(c) motion, courts must consider the pleadings,
documents attached to the pleadings, and any documents that
are “integral to the complaint and authentic.”
Occupy Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 116 (4th
Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). Additionally, district courts
apply the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) standard
when ruling on 12(c) motions. Wright & Miller,
supra, § 1367; see Exec. Risk Indem.,
Inc. v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., Inc., 681
F.Supp.2d 694, 706 n.17 (S.D. W.Va. 2009) (“[T]he
standards under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) for a
motion for judgment on the pleadings are identical to those
applicable to a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss.”).
motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal
sufficiency of a complaint or pleading. Giarratano v.
Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). A pleading
must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This standard “does not require
‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands
more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “To survive a motion to dismiss,
a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face.'” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To achieve facial
plausibility, the plaintiffs must plead facts allowing the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable, moving the claim beyond the realm of mere
possibility. Id. Mere “labels and
conclusions” or “formulaic recitation[s] of the
elements of a cause of action” are insufficient.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.