Argued: May 8, 2019
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Virginia, at Richmond. John A. Gibney, Jr.,
District Judge. (3:18-cv-00058-JAG)
Elizabeth Hopkins, KANTOR & KANTOR LLP, Northridge,
California, for Appellant.
David Capps, HARMAN CLAYTOR CORRIGAN & WELLMAN, P.C.,
Glen Allen, Virginia, for Appellees.
Michelle L. Roberts, KANTOR & KANTOR LLP, Northridge,
California, for Appellant.
Lee Miller, HARMAN CLAYTOR CORRIGAN & WELLMAN, P.C., Glen
Allen, Virginia, for Appellees.
KING, DIAZ, and QUATTLEBAUM, Circuit Judges.
Rema Dawson-Murdock ("Rema") appeals from the
dismissal of her civil action in the Eastern District of
Virginia. Rema sued National Counseling Group, Inc.
("NCG"), alleging two claims under the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA")
(codified primarily in Title 29 of the United States Code).
See Dawson-Murdock v. Nat'l Counseling Grp.,
Inc., No. 3:18-cv-00058 (E.D. Va. Jan. 26, 2018), ECF
No. 1 (the "Complaint"). More specifically, the
Complaint alleges that NCG contravened ERISA by breaching its
fiduciary duties in the administration of a group life
insurance plan in which Rema's late husband had enrolled
and for which NCG is the "named fiduciary." The
district court dismissed Rema's ERISA claims pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), concluding that
NCG's relevant actions were not taken in a fiduciary
capacity. See Dawson-Murdock v. Nat'l Counseling
Grp., Inc., No. 3:18-cv-00058 (E.D. Va. Aug. 7, 2018),
ECF No. 12 (the "Opinion"). Because the Complaint
sufficiently alleges NCG's fiduciary status in relation
to those claims, we vacate and remand.
this appeal stems from a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, we accept
the facts alleged in the Complaint as true and recite them in
the light most favorable to Rema. See Feminist Majority
Found. v. Hurley, 911 F.3d 674, 680 (4th Cir. 2019). As
part of the benefits package that it offers to employees, NCG
provides its workers the opportunity to enroll in a group
life insurance plan (the "Plan"). The insurer for
the Plan is Unum Life Insurance Company of America
("Unum"). The documents that constitute the Plan
are the Summary of Benefits and the Summary Plan Description
Summary of Benefits explains that an NCG employee who desires
to enroll in the Plan must pay a premium to NCG, which in
turn sends the premium payment to Unum. In addition to
transmitting premiums, NCG is obliged to
"regular[ly]" provide Unum with information about
employees "who are eligible to become insured; whose
amounts of coverage change; and whose coverage ends."
See J.A. 28.
specifies that, for the purposes of ERISA, NCG "is the
[p]lan [a]dministrator and named fiduciary of the
Plan," and that benefits under the Plan are
"administered" by Unum. See J.A. 65
(emphasis added). The SPD also explains that "ERISA
imposes duties upon the people who are responsible for the
operation of the . . . [P]lan," and that "[t]he
people who operate [the] Plan, called 'fiduciaries'
of the Plan, have a duty to do so prudently and in the
interest of . . . Plan participants and beneficiaries."
Id. at 71. And the SPD instructs Plan participants
and beneficiaries to contact NCG if they have questions about
working full-time for NCG, Rema's late husband, Wayne
Murdock ("Wayne"), elected $150, 000 in life
insurance coverage through the Plan. Wayne identified Rema as
his primary beneficiary for any benefits resulting from the
coverage. To secure that coverage, Wayne paid premiums to
NCG, which forwarded those payments to Unum.
March 21, 2016, Wayne stopped working full-time for NCG and
began working part-time for it. Although enrollment in the
Plan is limited to full-time NCG employees, NCG either never
informed or misinformed Wayne about whether he remained
eligible to participate in the Plan. Additionally, although
Wayne could have converted or ported his life insurance
coverage after transitioning to part-time status, NCG never
notified him of those options. The parties have not disputed
that Wayne continued to pay premiums to NCG after March 21,
2016, despite his apparent ineligibility.
August 30, 2016, Wayne died. Rema, as Wayne's widow and
beneficiary, thereafter submitted a life insurance benefits
claim for $150, 000 to Unum pursuant to Wayne's
participation in the Plan. On October 24, 2016, before Rema
heard anything from Unum regarding her claim, Christopher
Baham - NCG's Vice President of Human Resources - emailed
Rema to notify her that Unum had denied it. Baham assured
Rema, however, that NCG would directly pay her the claim
amount and work with Unum to recoup the payment. Baham also
advised Rema that she would "not have to deal with Unum
insurance company going forward." See Complaint
¶ 16. Three days later, on October 27, 2016, she
received a letter from Unum stating that it had denied her
benefits claim because Wayne "was not eligible for
coverage due to his part-time status and [he] failed to
convert or port his coverage." Id. ¶ 17.
the next four months, Rema and Vice President Baham
communicated regularly regarding her life insurance benefits
claim. Those communications included the following:
• On November 7, 2016, Rema emailed a copy of Unum's
denial letter to Baham and asked him for advice regarding her
• The following day, Baham responded via email and told
Rema that she did not need to do anything else, such as
appeal the claim denial, and that NCG was "working
through the details," see Complaint
¶¶ 20, 39;
• On November 15, 2016, Baham emailed Rema and said that
NCG was still working on her claim;
• About two weeks later, Baham again emailed Rema,
stating that NCG was "working through a separate
insurance company to pay out Wayne's benefits," and
that Unum would "not be involved at all."
Id. ¶ 22. He again reassured her that ...