Chen v. The Hartford Insurance Co., Inc.
Judge F. Dennis Saylor, IV: ORDER entered. MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS. Motion to Dismiss GRANTED.(FDS, law2)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
ED (ITE) CHEN,
THE HARTFORD INSURANCE CO., INC., )
and TWIN CITY FIRE INSURANCE CO., )
Civil Case No.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS
This is a case relating to a claim for workers’ compensation. Plaintiff Ed (Ite) Chen
alleges that defendants Hartford Insurance Co., Inc. and Twin City Fire Insurance Company,
sued as “Twin Cities Fires and Casualty Insurance Company,”1 wrongfully failed to pay his
workers’ compensation claim; engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A; defamed him, allegedly in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D,
§ 3(3); and refused to conduct a reasonable investigation of his claims in violation of Mass. Gen.
Laws ch. 176D, § 3(9)(d). Plaintiff is proceeding pro se. Because adjudication of plaintiff’s
claims in this Court is barred by the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (“MWCA”),
defendants’ motion to dismiss will be granted.
Defendants, in their motion to dismiss, contend that the proper name for this defendant is “Twin City Fire
Insurance Company.” (Def. Mem. in Supp. Mot. to Dismiss at 1 n.1).
The complaint alleges that Ed (Ite) Chen was employed by Viceroy Chemical in 2013 as
an analytical chemist. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ L, 4, 11). It alleges that he was exposed to toxic
chemicals while working at a property in Fall River owned by Quantum Catalytic and operated
by Continuum Energy Technologies, due to poor ventilation in his workspace. (Id. ¶¶ jdx.1, B,
C, I, 10, 20).2 It further alleges that Continuum employee Thomas Godfrey was in charge of
safety but discouraged Chen from filing a claim or going to the hospital. (Id. ¶ A). And it
alleges that Chen suffered various types of neurological, physical, and emotional damage as a
result. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 33).
Defendants Hartford Insurance Co., Inc. and Twin City Fire Insurance Co. are insurance
companies; Twin City is a subsidiary of Hartford. (Def. Mem. in Supp. Mot. to Dismiss at 1
n.1). According to the complaint, Quantum Catalytic, Continuum, and Viceroy were insured by
Twin City. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 8, 20). A company called Transformative Energy Technologies
Investments, LLC allegedly “introduced Chen to Continuum Energy Technology” and was
insured by Hartford itself. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13).
The complaint admits that “Chen’s personal injuries fall within the jurisdiction of
workers comp,” but alleges that “Chen is pressing his claim outside the workers compensation
system after exhausting administrative avenues within the system for his workers comp claim.”
(Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 24). Another allegation suggests that Chen did not follow the administrative
process to completion: “Chen exhausted all procedural avenues within department of industrial
The amended complaint begins with a section titled “Jurisdiction” including paragraphs numbered 1-4. It
then switches to lettered paragraphs A-M, and goes back to numbers 1-75. The first paragraphs 1-4 will be referred
to as “¶¶ jdx.1, jdx.2,” etc. and the remaining paragraphs will be referred to by their letters or numbers alone.
accidents as he was summarily denied advancement to the conference state by the conciliator,
who failed to inform Chen of his right to appeal her decision until the appeal period lapsed.”
(Am. Compl. ¶ 27). And certain other allegations in the complaint suggest that Chen is choosing
not to go forward under the workers’ compensation scheme because he finds it inadequate. For
example, the complaint alleges that Harford has an interest in denying Chen’s workers’
compensation claim because it also insured the parties allegedly responsible for Chen’s injury—
Quantum Catalytics and Continuum. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15). It further alleges that “[b]ecause the
Hartford and their subsidiary the [T]win [C]ities [F]ire [I]nsurance [C]ompany omitted key
medical information to the workers comp system and to their own lawyers, adjusters, and
independent medical examiners, failed to conduct any investigation, and had conflicts of interest
with respect to their other clients in attempting to deny Chen’s claims, Chen cannot press his
claim through the MGL 152 worker’s comp system.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 17). And it complains that
“[t]he cozy relationship between the workers comp system, the lawyers in workers comp, the
insurance companies with the lawyers, and lastly the high powered investor who partnered with
Chen and purchases extensive insurance with the Hartford . . . merit a civil case outside the
workers comp system makes it impossible [f]or Chen to receive a fair hearing within the
worker’s compensation system.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 19).
The complaint further alleges that Hartford failed to investigate his claim and suppressed
medical evidence that he submitted. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 21, 51, 57-59). It alleges that Hartford
only contacted one witness, (id. ¶ E, 52); that Hartford did not give the independent medical
examiner any legible medical records, (id. ¶¶ 60-61, 65); that Hartford failed to give its lawyers
copies of the letters written by the neurologist and toxicologist that Chen hired to document his
injuries, (id. ¶¶ 56-59, 65); that it forced him to litigate to have his claim investigated, (id. ¶ 70);
and that it failed to give him a reasonable explanation for its denial of coverage, (id. ¶ 74).
Finally, the complaint alleges that two of Hartford’s lawyers told the Massachusetts
Department of Industrial Accidents (“DIA”) conciliator that he was lying about his injuries, and
“defamed Chen to the DIA conciliator by telling her Chen was the CEO of a company that had
run out of cash and it was highly suspicious, despite the fact the [sic] after Chen made his claim,
[V]iceroy Chemical continued to operate and raise money, and perform patent activity for
another three years after Chen’s injury, making blatantly false and misleading postulations
despite contradictor[y] evidence which were known or should have been known to him.” (Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 34, 36, 43).
Chen seeks “a preliminary injunction for the Hartford to provide medical evaluation of
[his] condition by appointing an independent neurologist, occupational therapist and toxicologist
to evaluate the physical damage to Chen due to his exposure to gases which are banned by the
Geneva protocol on gas warfare,” monetary damages including $540,000—three years of the
salary listed on his workers’ compensation policy—and a lifetime loss of salary, treble damages
under Chapter 93A, and at least $1.62 million in exemplary damages. (Am. Compl. ¶ 23, 29, 30,
Plaintiff filed this action on April 6, 2017. An amended complaint was deemed to be
filed on August 4, 2017. (ECF 18). Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on September 1.
Plaintiff filed his opposition on September 22, and defendants filed a reply on October 5. A
motion hearing was held on October 11. Although plaintiff was provided with telephone dial-in
information, he did not appear at the hearing either in person or by telephone.
Defendants have submitted detailed facts related to plaintiff’s three administrative claims
filed with the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents (“DIA”) and a prior state-court
action in New York. Because the Court concludes that it need not rely on any facts related to
those proceedings, it expresses no opinion as to whether those facts are appropriately part of the
record at this early stage.
Standard of Review
On a motion to dismiss, the Court “must assume the truth of all well-plead[ed] facts and
give . . . plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom.” Ruiz v. Bally Total Fitness
Holding Corp., 496 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Rogan v. Menino, 175 F.3d 75, 77 (1st Cir.
1999)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state a claim that is plausible on its
face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). That is, “[f]actual allegations must
be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555 (citations and footnote
omitted). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for
more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Dismissal is appropriate if the facts as
alleged do not “possess enough heft to sho[w] that [plaintiff is] entitled to relief.” Ruiz Rivera v.
Pfizer Pharm., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 84 (1st Cir.2008) (alterations in original) (quoting Clark v.
Boscher, 514 F.3d 107, 112 (1st Cir. 2008)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
All of plaintiff’s claims are barred because his sole remedy is through the Massachusetts
Workers’ Compensation Act (“MWCA”), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 152.
It is undisputed that plaintiff was an employee of Viceroy Chemical, that his alleged
reaction to a chemical exposure is a “personal injury” under the MWCA, and that it arose out of
his employment. See Green v. Wyman-Gordon Co., 422 Mass. 551, 558 (1996); (Am. Compl.
¶¶ 10-11, 20, 24). Plaintiff alleges that he has exhausted his administrative remedies; defendants
contend that he actually withdrew all three of his administrative claims. On a motion to dismiss,
the Court must accept the plaintiff’s allegations as true, but here the fact is immaterial: the
MWCA does not require a plaintiff to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing a claim
in federal district court—rather, it completely bars his right to sue. The statute provides: “An
employee shall be held to have waived his right of action at common law or under the law of any
other jurisdiction in respect to an injury that is compensable under this chapter, to recover
damages for personal injuries, if he shall not have given his employer, at the time of his contract
of hire, written notice that he claimed such right . . . .” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 152, § 24; see King
v. Viscoloid Co., 219 Mass. 420, 422 (1914) (“It was undoubtedly the intention of the Legislature
by [the MWCA] to take away from employees who should become subject to its provisions all
other remedies that they had against their employers for injuries happening in the course of their
employment and arising therefrom, and to substitute for such remedies the wider right of
compensation given by the act.”). Plaintiff does not allege that he has retained that right; to the
contrary, the complaint acknowledges that his “personal injuries fall within the jurisdiction of
workers comp.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 24). And because the activity plaintiff complains of was
undertaken by the defendant insurers acting “in the shoes of” plaintiff’s employer to further the
goals of the MWCA, the bar applies to suits against those insurers as well. See Maxwell v. AIG
Domestic Claims, 460 Mass. 91, 107-09 (2011). Therefore, to the extent plaintiff is seeking
compensation for his underlying injury, this Court is without any authority to award it.
Plaintiff’s claims under Mass. Gen. Laws Chapters 93A and 176D, § 3 are also barred by
the MWCA. As defendants point out, Fleming v. National Union Fire Insurance. Co., 445 Mass.
381 (2005), is remarkably similar to this case. There, the plaintiffs sued their employer’s
workers’ compensation insurer for allegedly violating Chapters 93A and 176D, § 3(9) in the
course of handling their claims. Id. at 382-83. The court held that “[n]otwithstanding the
plaintiffs’ contention that the defendants’ actions in handling their workers’ compensation claims
constituted unfair or deceptive business practices, their cause of action is still fundamentally
encompassed within the overarching workers’ compensation framework.” Id. at 383. It
reviewed the “comprehensive statutory and regulatory scheme” surrounding workers’
compensation claims, which includes not only an adjudicative process affording multiple levels
of review for individual claims, but also an administrative process by which parties can complain
about “questionable claims handling techniques.” Id. at 384-85; see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 23E,
§ 3; 452 C.M.R. § 7.04. The court concluded that “[i]n light of this comprehensive statutory and
regulatory scheme that affords injured workers the opportunity to contest benefit determinations
and payment practices, we conclude that employees . . .who believe that their employer or its
insurer had engaged in questionable claims handling techniques have an avenue for obtaining
redress with respect to alleged misconduct” and that “[g]iven the breadth of the workers’
compensation framework, it is evident that the Legislature intended employees to seek relief for
purported unfair or deceptive business practices in the workers’ compensation realm through
G.L. c. 152, and not by way of action pursuant to G.L. c. 93A.” Id. at 385-86.
For the same reasons, plaintiff’s claims under Chapters 93A and 176D, § 3 will be
The claims under Chapters 93A and 176D suffer from a number of other defects. Among other things, the
Chapter 93A claim should be dismissed because plaintiff failed to send an adequate demand letter describing the
injury he suffered and giving defendants the required 30 days to respond. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, § 9(3); (Def.
Reply Exs. 1 & 2); see Rodi v. S. New England Sch. of Law, 389 F.3d 5, 19 (1st Cir. 2004). The claim for
defamation fails because there is no private cause of action under Chapter 176D, § 3(3). See Mass. Gen. Laws ch.
176D, § 6 (providing for enforcement by the Commissioner of Insurance); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 23E, § 3(b)(8)
(providing procedures by which complaints go to the Commissioner for enforcement); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A,
§ 9(1) (providing a cause of action to those “whose rights are affected by another person violating the provisions of
clause (9) of section three of chapter one hundred and seventy-six D” (emphasis added)). And that claim appears to
be barred by the absolute litigation privilege, as the complained-of statements were made at a conciliation hearing.
Blanchette v. Cataldo, 734 F.2d 869, 877 (1st Cir. 1984) (“Under Massachusetts law, an attorney’s statements are
For the foregoing reasons, defendants’ motion to dismiss is GRANTED.4
/s/ F. Dennis Saylor
F. Dennis Saylor, IV
United States District Judge
Dated: November 9, 2017
absolutely privileged ‘where such statements are made by an attorney engaged in his function as an attorney whether
in the institution or conduct of litigation or in conferences and other communications preliminary to litigation.’”
(quoting Sriberg v. Raymond, 370 Mass. 105, 109 (1976))); Doe v. Nutter, McClennen & Fish, 41 Mass. App. Ct.
137, 140 (1996).
Plaintiff, in his complaint, requests that if the Court finds any of his claims to be barred by the MWCA, it
should “remand to the administrative judge to adjudicate the way the Hartford handled the claims process in
violation of subsection 14 of MGL chapter 152.” (Am. Compl. at 9-10). But plaintiff has not alleged an underlying
worker’s compensation claim to remand, and in any event this Court is without power to direct any administrative
law judge to take action with respect to a case not properly within its jurisdiction.
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