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Baglione v. Clara Maass Medical Center

September 8, 2006

MARIE BAGLIONE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CLARA MAASS MEDICAL CENTER, INC., ST. BARNABAS CARE SYSTEM, INC., ABC CORP. AND XYZ CORP., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katharine S. Hayden, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Marie Baglione ("plaintiff" or "Baglione") brought suit against the defendants on August 27, 1999, charging them with refusal to pay full disability benefits to her. Plaintiff stated that the action was brought "pursuant to applicable New Jersey State Law, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, and 29 U.S.C.A. § 1000 et. Seq., including the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)." (Complaint ¶ 1.) Magistrate Judge Ronald Hedges administratively terminated the action by order dated March 29, 2000, "until such time as all plan appeals are exhausted." Presently before the Court is plaintiff's motion to reinstate the complaint.

II. BACKGROUND

According to the complaint, plaintiff was employed by defendant Clara Maass Medical Center ("Clara Maass") as an administrative assistant from 1966 to 1986. (Complaint ¶ 4.) In 1986, plaintiff resigned from Clara Maass, and from 1986 to 1997 she was employed by two different private physicians. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 8.) In 1997, plaintiff was declared disabled by the Social Security Administration, and she applied for full disability retirement benefits offered under the Clara Maass retirement plan. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12.) Clara Maass "refused to give Plaintiff her full disability retirement benefits," claiming that because her disability commenced after her employment at Clara Maass had ended, she was not entitled to full benefits under the plan. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff claims she was entitled to full benefits because that there was no requirement under the plan that a party must be an active Clara Maass employee at the time of disability in order to receive full benefits. (Id. ¶ 14.)

Plaintiff filed her federal complaint on August 27, 1999. The Court administratively terminated the lawsuit on March 29, 2000 until all plaintiff exhausted all appeals available to her under the plan. According to the papers on this motion, plaintiff then sent numerous letters to defendants "in an attempt to apply for benefits . . . in accordance with Defendants' formal application procedure." (Plaintiff's Moving Brief at 2.) Plaintiff alleges that she sent a letter to defendants on May 30, 2000, requesting an immediate hearing in accordance with the plan rules. (Id. at 2-3.) Plaintiff states that she "received no response to this letter or to a number of letters written after the May 30th letter." (Id. at 3.) On November 15, 2002, plaintiff sent another letter to the defendants, indicting that she had not received a response to her request for a hearing. (Id.) Plaintiff does not explain what happened during those two-and-a-half years or why she failed to follow up on the May 30th letter sooner.

Defendants replied on December 24, 2002 to the effect that plaintiff's May 2000 letter had been misdirected due to the departure of one of their employees, and they would fully respond in January, 2003. (Id.) In her moving brief, plaintiff claims that she "never received any response from Defendants after December 24, 2002." (Id.)

But this is belied by the record. Attached to plaintiff's moving papers as Exhibit "C" is a letter from Saint Barnabas Health Care System*fn1 ("St. Barnabas") dated January 9, 2003, in response to plaintiff's letter of November 15, 2002. (Letter from Patrick C. Donahue of St. Barnabas dated January 9, 2003, annexed to Plaintiff's Moving Brief as Exhibit C.) In addition, plaintiff's lawyer Alan Genitempo, Esq. admits in a sworn statement that he received a letter from the defendants on January 9, 2003. (Certification of Alan Genitempo, Esq., ¶ 10, annexed to Plaintiff's Moving Brief.) In stark contrast to plaintiff's assertions, St. Barnabas stated that it had responded to plaintiff's May 30th, 2000 letter, and that on August 6, 2001, plaintiff "submitted a completed Retirement Application Form." (Letter from Patrick C. Donahue of St. Barnabas dated January 9, 2003 at 1, annexed to Plaintiff's Moving Brief as Exhibit C.) St. Barnabas states that the plaintiff's monthly retirement benefits began as requested on October 1, 2001 and that the case file had been closed since then. (Id. at 1-2.)

Plaintiff claims that she was "unable to even have her case heard before Defendants' appeals board, because of Defendant's [sic] refusal to even respond to Plaintiff's attorney's numerous requests for a hearing." (Moving Brief at 3-4.) Therefore, plaintiff argues that because any additional attempts at appeal would be futile, the federal complaint should be reopened. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff does not explain the delay between the defendants' responses of late 2002/early 2003 and plaintiff's motion to reopen the case approximately three years later on December 2, 2005.

Defendants argue that the action is time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations. (Opposition Letter Brief at 3.) They claim that because plaintiff's complaint "alleges that she was denied disability retirement benefits some time between 1997 and 1999," the cause of action arose more than six years ago and is therefore time-barred under 29 U.S.C.A. § 1451(f)(1). (Id.) In addition, defendants argue that because plaintiff "pleads that her application of disability retirement benefits was denied between April and May 30, 2000, she clearly had actual knowledge of a cause of action more than three (3) years prior to the filing of the instant motion," the cause of action is time-barred under 29 U.S.C.A. § 1451(f)(2). (Id.)

III. DISCUSSION

Civil actions brought pursuant to ERISA are subject to the following statute of limitations:

An action under this section may not be brought after ...


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