EWALD v. PRUDENTIAL FINANCIAL CORPORATE OFFICE HEADQUARTERS et al
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION re 10 MOTION to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim filed by PRUDENTIAL FINANCIAL CORPORATE OFFICE HEADQUARTERS. Objections to R&R due by 3/2/2021. By MAGISTRATE JUDGE JOHN C. NIVISON. (MFS)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MAINE
BONNIE L. EWALD,
COMPANY OF AMERICA, et al.,
RECOMMENDED DECISION ON
DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Prudential Insurance Company of America1
committed “fraud and financial exploitation” by withholding “funds” and “prior benefits”
under Plaintiff’s long-term disability benefit plan. (Statement of Claim, ECF 1-1.)
Defendant has moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint. (Motion, ECF No. 10.) Plaintiff did
not file an opposition to the motion.2
Following a review of the record and after consideration of the issues generated by
Defendant’s motion, I recommend the Court grant Defendant’s motion to dismiss.
In her complaint, Plaintiff named as defendants “Prudential Financial Corporate Office Headquarters,
a/k/a Prudential Insurance Company of America” and Defendant’s CEO, Charles F. Lowrey. (Statement
of Claim, ECF No. 1-1.)
District of Maine Local Rule 7(b) provides: “Unless within 21 days after the filing of a motion the
opposing party files written objection thereto, incorporating a memorandum of law, the opposing party shall
be deemed to have waived objection.” D. Me. Loc. R. 7(b). Under Local Rule 7, therefore, Plaintiff has
waived objection to Defendant’s motion. I nevertheless will assess the merit of Defendant’s motion.
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Plaintiff’s factual allegations are deemed true when evaluating a motion to dismiss.
McKee v. Cosby, 874 F.3d 54, 59 (1st Cir. 2017). The facts set forth below, therefore, are
drawn from Plaintiff’s Statement of Claim, as well as “from documents incorporated by
reference” therein. Saccoccia v. United States, 955 F.3d 171, 172 (1st Cir. 2020) (quotation
marks omitted). “When the complaint relies upon a document, whose authenticity is not
challenged, such a document ‘merges into the pleadings’ and the court may properly
consider it under a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” Alternative Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul
Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 267 F.3d 30, 33 (1st Cir. 2001) (quoting Beddall v. State Street
Bank and Trust Co., 137 F.3d 12, 17 (1st Cir. 1998)). “This is true even when the
documents are incorporated into the movant’s pleadings.” Curran v. Cousins, 509 F.3d
36, 44 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Beddall, 137 F.3d at 17). As the First Circuit has reasoned, a
“court’s inquiry into the viability of [a plaintiff’s] allegations should not be hamstrung
simply because the plaintiff fails to append to the complaint the very document upon which
by [the plaintiff’s] own admission the allegations rest.” Beddall, 137 F.3d at 17; see Clorox
Co. v. Proctor & Gamble Commercial Co., 228 F.3d 24, 32 (1st Cir. 2000) (recognizing
that a plaintiff is not permitted to “maintain a claim . . . by excising an isolated statement
from a document and importing it into the complaint . . . .” (quotation marks omitted)).
Plaintiff maintains that she is entitled to the payment of certain “benefits” withheld
by Defendant. (Statement of Claim at 4.) As part of its notice of removal, to demonstrate
this Court’s jurisdiction, Defendant included a copy of the long-term disability (LTD)
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benefit plan by which Plaintiff was insured. (Benefit Plan, ECF No. 1-2.) The fact that
Plaintiff seeks to recover “benefits” from Defendant, which Plaintiff identifies as an
insurance company, demonstrates that Plaintiff’s claim is based on Defendant’s alleged
obligations under an agreement between Plaintiff and Defendant. Plaintiff has not
challenged the authenticity of the plan nor the assertion that the “benefits” she seeks to
recover are governed by the plan. Because Plaintiff’s claim is dependent on the plan and
because Plaintiff has not challenged the authenticity of the copy of the plan filed by
Defendant, the Court can consider the plan in its assessment of the motion to dismiss.3
Plaintiff alleges the following:
[Defendant] committ[ed] fraud and financial exploitation against an elderly,
disabled person, [Plaintiff], from January 1, 2018, until . . . October 19, 2020,
and will continue to do so if this issue is not resolved.
(Statement of Claim at 4 (emphases omitted)). The alleged fraud evidently relates to “funds
withheld” by Defendant in the amount of $487.74 and “prior benefits withheld” by
Defendant in the amount of $1,400. (Id.) Plaintiff requests a statement asserting a “zero
balance due” and the refund of “funds” and “prior benefits” allegedly withheld. (Statement
of Claim at 4.) Additionally, Plaintiff seeks a judgment against Defendant in the amount
of $6,000 for Defendant’s alleged “violati[on] [of] trust and confidence [and] for [the]
stress and health risks [Plaintiff was] submitted to.” (Id.)
As part of its motion to dismiss, Defendant included documents that reflect the administrative process
regarding Plaintiff’s claim for benefits. Because Plaintiff’s allegations are not directly linked to or
dependent upon the other documents, I have not considered the documents.
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Plaintiff filed a Statement of Claim on October 19, 2020, initiating a small claim
action in the Maine District Court. (Statement of Claim at 4; State Court Docket, ECF No.
7-1.) On November 18, 2020, Defendant removed the matter to this Court, asserting that
Plaintiff’s claim was one arising under federal law—specifically, a claim arising under a
benefits plan regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). See
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). (Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.)
Motion to Dismiss Standard
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss
a claim for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In reviewing a
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court “must evaluate whether the complaint
adequately pleads facts that ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Guilfoile
v. Shields, 913 F.3d 178, 186 (1st Cir. 2019) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 570 (2007)). In doing so, a court “assume[s] the truth of all well-pleaded facts and
give[s] the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom.” Id. (quoting
Thomas v. Rhode Island, 542 F.3d 944, 948 (1st Cir. 2008)). The complaint, however, may
not consist entirely of “conclusory allegations that merely parrot the relevant legal
standard.” Young v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 717 F.3d 224, 231 (1st Cir. 2013). To
evaluate the sufficiency of the complaint, therefore, a court must “first, ‘isolate and ignore
statements in the complaint that simply offer legal labels and conclusions or merely rehash
cause-of-action elements,’ then ‘take the complaint’s well-pled (i.e., non-conclusory, non4
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speculative) facts as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in the pleader’s favor, and see
if they plausibly narrate a claim for relief.’” Zell v. Ricci, 957 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2020)
(alteration omitted) (quoting Zenon v. Guzman, 924 F.3d 611, 615-16 (1st Cir. 2019)).
“A self-represented plaintiff is not exempt from this framework, but the court must
construe [the] complaint ‘liberally’ and hold it ‘to less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers.’” Waterman v. White Interior Sols., No. 2:19-cv-00032JDL, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 191506, at *4 (D. Me. Nov. 5, 2019) (quoting Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)).
Plaintiff’s Statement of Claim
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claim for fraud “relates to an ERISA-governed
plan, thus, it is preempted by ERISA” and, alternatively, that the claim “fails to allege any
viable ERISA cause of action.” (Motion at 2.)
“ERISA preempts ‘any and all State laws insofar as they may . . . relate to any
employee benefit plan.’” Guerra-Delgado v. Popular, Inc., 774 F.3d 776, 781 (1st Cir.
2014) (alteration in original) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a)). The term ‘State laws,’ in
relevant part, “encompasses common law causes of action under state law.” Mank v.
Green, 350 F. Supp. 2d 154, 158 (D. Me. 2004) (citing Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, 481
U.S. 41, 47-48 (1987)). “[A] cause of action ‘relates to’ an ERISA plan when a court must
evaluate or interpret the terms of the ERISA-regulated plan to determine liability under the
state law cause of action . . . [as well as] where the damages must be calculated using the
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terms of an ERISA plan.” Guerra-Delgado, 774 F.3d at 781 (alterations in original)
(quoting Hampers v. W.R. Grace & Co., 202 F.3d 44, 52 (1st Cir. 2000)).
Here, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant committed fraud by withholding funds in the
amount of $487.74 and by withholding benefits in the amount of $1,400. (Statement of
Claim at 4.) For the Court to determine whether Plaintiff’s LTD benefits were improperly
withheld, the Court must necessarily “evaluate or interpret the terms,” id., of the plan.
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s fraud claim is preempted by ERISA. See 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a);
Gallagher v. Cigna Healthcare of Me., Inc., 538 F. Supp. 2d 286, 294 (D. Me. 2008)
(“Because the Court would have to consult the ERISA plan to resolve the state law claim,
the state law ‘relates to’ an ERISA plan and is preempted.”).
ERISA Cause of Action
ERISA’s “integrated enforcement mechanism, [29 USCS § 1132(a)], is . . . essential
to accomplish Congress’ purpose of creating a comprehensive statute for the regulation of
employee benefit plans.” Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 208 (2004). In
relevant part, ERISA permits a plan beneficiary to bring a civil action “to recover benefits
due to [her] under the terms of [her] plan, to enforce [her] rights under the terms of the
plan, or to clarify [her] rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan.” 29 U.S.C.
Plaintiff’s complaint can fairly be construed as a claim to “recover benefits due to
[her]” and “to enforce [her] rights under the terms of the plan.” Id. While Plaintiff seeks
to recover funds withheld and other benefits, Plaintiff has not alleged any facts to support
her contention that she is entitled to the funds and benefits. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
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12(b)(6) “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
Moreover, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks damages of $6,000 for a “violati[on] [of]
trust and confidence [and] for [the] stress and health risks [Plaintiff was] submitted to”
(Statement of Claim at 4), ERISA “provides a remedy to secure benefits under the plan
rather than damages for a breach of the plan” as Plaintiff evidently attempts to do in this
case. Hampers v. W.R. Grace & Co., 202 F.3d 44, 51 (1st Cir. 2000) (emphasis in original)
(quoting Turner v. Fallon Community Health Plan, 127 F.3d 196, 198 (1st Cir. 1997)); see
Evans v. Akers, 534 F.3d 65, 73 (1st Cir. 2008) (“ERISA does not authorize suits for . . .
damages separate from the benefits to which the plan documents entitle the participants—
such as emotional distress resulting from a plan’s failure to honor its obligations. . . .”
In sum, Plaintiff has failed to state an actionable ERISA claim.
Based on the foregoing analysis, I recommend the Court grant Defendant’s motion
to dismiss and dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint without prejudice.4
A party may file objections to those specified portions of a magistrate
judge’s report or proposed findings or recommended decisions entered
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) for which de novo review by the district
court is sought, together with a supporting memorandum, within fourteen
The Statement of Claim and thus the Court’s docket lists Charles F. Lowrey as a defendant. Plaintiff
refers to Mr. Lowrey as Defendant’s CEO. The record does not reflect service on Mr. Lowrey. In fact, in
state court, Plaintiff evidently only requested service upon Defendant Prudential. (Affidavit and Request
for Service, ECF No. 7-3.) Even though Mr. Lowrey has not been served, because Plaintiff’s has not
asserted any separate facts as to Mr. Lowrey, the complaint as to Mr. Lowrey should be dismissed as well.
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(14) days of being served with a copy thereof. A responsive memorandum
and shall be filed within fourteen (14) days after the filing of the objection.
Failure to file a timely objection shall constitute a waiver of the right
to de novo review by the district court and to appeal the district court’s order.
/s/ John C. Nivison
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Dated this 16th day of February, 2021.
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