Vinson et al v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing as follows: (1) the 19 MOTION TO DISMISS plfs' amended complaint is GRANTED as to Counts One and Two and those claims are dismissed as against International Paper; (2) the plf's 22 MOTION to amend their complaint is DENIED; (3) this case will proceed on Counts One and Two against MetLife and on Count Three against MetLife and International Paper, as further set out. Signed by Honorable Judge W. Harold Albritton, III on 6/3/16. (Attachments: # 1 civil appeals checklist)(djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
NICHOLAS VINSON, LADEXTER VINSON, )
YUTIV VINSON FUQUA, and THOMAS
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE CO., )
INTERNATIONAL PAPER CO., etc.,
Civil Action No. 2:15CV885-WHA
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This cause is before the court on Defendant International Paper Company’s Motion to
Dismiss (Doc. #19), and the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend Their Complaint (Doc. #22).
Nicholas Vinson, LaDexter Vinson, Yutiv Vinson Fuqua, and Thomas Vinson, Jr. (“the
Plaintiffs”), filed a Complaint in this case in the Circuit Court of Montgomery, Alabama. The
Complaint asserted claims for breach of an insurance policy (Count One) and bad faith (Count
Two). The case was removed to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction because the
Plaintiffs are citizens of Alabama and Ohio, Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.
(“MetLife”) is a citizen of New York and International Paper Company (“International Paper”) is
a citizen of New York and Tennessee. The Plaintiffs seek to recover approximately $250,000 in
life insurance and other damages. No Motion to Remand was filed. Diversity subject matter
jurisdiction exists in this case. 28 U.S.C. §1332.
The Plaintiffs filed, with leave of court, an Amended Complaint again bringing claims for
breach of contract and bad faith, but adding a claim under the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), and, in the alternative, for breach of fiduciary duty pursuant to
29 U.S.C. §1132.
International Paper filed a Motion to Dismiss. In response, the Plaintiffs seek to amend
their Complaint an additional time, stating that discovery has revealed that the Plaintiffs have
additional claims. The Plaintiffs seek to omit the Count II claim for bad faith against
International Paper Company, to assert a new negligence claim and a new ERISA §510 claim
against International Paper. The Plaintiffs also seek to state a claim against a new party, Mark
Azzarello, under ERISA.
For reasons to be discussed, the Motion to Dismiss is due to be GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part and the Motion to Amend is due to be DENIED.
MOTION TO DISMISS
The court accepts the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, Hishon v. King & Spalding,
467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984), and construes the complaint in the plaintiff's favor, Duke v. Cleland, 5
F.3d 1399, 1402 (11th Cir. 1993).
In analyzing the sufficiency of pleading, the court is guided
by a two-prong approach: one, the court is not bound to accept conclusory statements of the
elements of a cause of action and, two, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court
should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to entitlement
See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).
A[A] plaintiff's obligation to
provide the >grounds= of his >entitle[ment] to relief= requires more than labels and conclusions,
and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.@
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint
need not contain Adetailed factual allegations,@ but instead the complaint must contain Aonly
enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.@ Id. at 570.
allegations Amust be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.@ Id. at 555.
The allegations of the Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint are as follows:
The Plaintiffs are beneficiaries of a life insurance policy issued to Plaintiffs’ decedent,
Dexter W. Vinson. Dexter W. Vinson was hired by International Paper in 1979. He purchased
life insurance from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”) and paid for the policy
premiums through a payroll deduction. It is alleged in the Amended Complaint that the policy in
question was agreed by MetLife and International Paper to not be governed by ERISA.
When Dexter W. Vinson died, notice of the claim under the policy was provided to
MetLife. MetLife denied the claim on the basis that the policy had lapsed. The lapse was said
to be as a result of non-payment because Dexter W. Vinson was no longer eligible for payroll
deduction at the time of his death because he was on disability. The Amended Complaint
alleges that the life insurance policy states that if the employee is retired, the employee will be
considered to be on the payroll deduction plan. The Amended Complaint alleges that
International Paper was charged with continuing the payments under the payroll deduction
election and failed in that duty.
With respect to the Motion to Amend, International Paper points out that the motion
seeks to amend the Amended Complaint well after the deadline for amendment of the pleadings.
International Paper contends that the papers upon which the Plaintiff relies were available to the
Plaintiffs before the amendment deadline passed.
The court entered its Uniform Scheduling Order in this case on January 26, 2016. The
order set April 1, 2016, as the deadline for Plaintiffs to amend their Complaint, which deadline
was requested by the parties in their Report of Parties Planning Meeting. On April 1, 2016, the
deadline for Plaintiffs to amend, the Plaintiffs did move to file an amended complaint (Doc.
#15), the motion was granted, and the Amended Complaint attached to the Plaintiffs’ motion was
filed. The current motion to file a Second Amended Complaint comes over a month after the
deadline set out in the scheduling order.
Scheduling orders entered by the court are to be followed, in the absence of good cause
shown as to why a deadline could not be followed with due diligence. A review of the file in
this case shows that the information referred to by the Plaintiffs as a reason for seeking to file a
Second Amended Complaint was readily available to the Plaintiffs well before the amendment
deadline. The court finds that the Plaintiffs have failed to show good cause and due diligence
necessary to satisfy their burden under Fed. R. Civ. P.16(b)(4). Sosa v. Airprint Sys., Inc., 133
F.3d 1417, 1419 (11th Cir. 1998) (stating that not requiring a showing of good cause would
render scheduling orders meaningless and effectively would read Rule 16(b) and its good cause
requirement out of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). The Motion to Amend is, therefore,
due to be DENIED.
With respect to the Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, International Paper
argues that it should be dismissed from this case because it was not a party to and has no
obligation to pay any proceeds from the MetLife policy. International Paper argues that the
Plaintiffs fail to plead a viable breach of contract or bad faith claim as to it and the additional
claim in Count Three is based on speculation and legal conclusions.
The Plaintiffs concede that the bad faith claim in Count Two against International Paper
is due to be dismissed. The Plaintiffs argue with regard to the breach of contract claim in Count
One that the policy appears to reflect that there were agreements between International Paper and
MetLife. The claim for relief in Count One, however, is that the “Defendants have breached,
and continue to breach, their contractual duties under the policy of insurance by failing and
refusing to pay benefits owed the Plaintiffs.” (Doc. #17 at p.9). The contract alleged to be
breached is the insurance contract, to which International Paper is not a party. Therefore, the
claim in Count One is due to be dismissed as to International Paper.
The remaining claim is the claim in Count Three. International Paper moves to dismiss
this claim on the basis that the claim is vague and relies on speculation. International Paper
points out that the Count alleges both that a payroll continuation plan may and may not be
governed by ERISA.
Count Three invokes ERISA and also alternatively pleads a breach of fiduciary duty
based on an allegation of fact that the life insurance funding should have continued during the
disability of Dexter Vinson. There is no prohibition against pleading claims in the alternative.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (stating “[a] party may set out 2 or more statements of a claim or defense
alternatively or hypothetically, either in a single count or defense or in separate ones. If a party
makes alternative statements, the pleading is sufficient if any one of them is sufficient.”).
While some aspects of Count Three are conclusory or speculative, the Amended Complaint has
alleged that MetLife denied payment of the life insurance benefit because the policy had lapsed
due to lack of premium payments, and that International Paper had a duty to fund the policy
through a plan, which it failed to do, or had a fiduciary duty pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §1132 to pay
the premiums. The court concludes that, considering the non-conclusory and non-speculative
portions of the Amended Complaint, the Plaintiffs can proceed on their alternatively stated
claims in Count Three.
For the reasons discussed, it is hereby ORDERED as follows:
The Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint (Doc. #19 is GRANTED as
to Counts One and Two and those claims are dismissed as against International Paper.
2. The Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend Their Complaint (Doc. #22) is DENIED.
3. This case will proceed on Counts One and Two against MetLife and on Count Three
against MetLife and International Paper.
Done this 3rd day of June, 2016.
_/s/ W. Harold Albritton
W. HAROLD ALBRITTON
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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