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Brown v. Hartford Group

February 23, 2009

MICHAEL BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE HARTFORD GROUP, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

This matter has come before the Court on the motion of defendant Hartford Life Insurance Company (improperly pled as The Hartford Group) to dismiss the complaint of plaintiff, Michael Brown. For the reasons expressed below, defendant's motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court, which was removed to this Court by defendant, seeking the immediate withdrawal of funds from an annuity, which names plaintiff as a beneficiary, purchased by plaintiff's father, Roy Brown, now deceased, from defendant Hartford Life Insurance Company ("Hartford"). The annuity is payable over forty years, and as of December 31, 2007, the annuity was worth over $180,000, but plaintiff is seeking the immediate release of all the funds due to "extenuating circumstances." These circumstances include the sale of his home for a significant loss in order to avoid foreclosure, the costs of a recent divorce, alimony and child support, care for his ill sister, home repairs, taxes, car payment, dental work, and reduction in salary due to decreased overtime.

Hartford has filed the instant motion to dismiss arguing that according to the terms of the annuity, which were specifically set up by plaintiff's father, only a certain amount is to be distributed to plaintiff yearly, rather than in one lump sum. Hartford argues that it has complied with the terms of the annuity contract, and the terms of the contract prohibit the disbursement of a lump sum payment. Additionally, Hartford argues that plaintiff is not entitled to any type of equitable relief.

Plaintiff has opposed defendant's motion, but instead of arguing that he is entitled to reform the contract, he contends, based on the principle of equitable estoppel, he should recover the costs of hiring an attorney to file suit against Hartford. He claims that an employee of Hartford informed him to get a court order and Hartford would release the funds "without a fight." Because Hartford has contested plaintiff's lawsuit seeking the immediate lump sum payment, plaintiff argues he is entitled to reimbursement of his attorney's fees.

DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

B. Standard for Motion to Dismiss

When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Under the liberal federal pleading rules, it is not necessary to plead evidence, and it is not necessary to plead all the facts that serve as a basis for the claim. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 562 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). However, "[a]lthough the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth an intricately detailed description of the asserted basis for relief, they do require that the pleadings give defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Baldwin County Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 149-50 n.3 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).

A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks "'not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'" Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the "Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element").

A court need not credit either "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997). The defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented. Hedges v. U.S., 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).

Finally, a court in reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must only consider the facts alleged in the pleadings, the documents attached thereto as exhibits, and matters of judicial notice. Southern Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Kwong Shipping Group Ltd., 181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999). A court may consider, however, "an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). If any other matters outside the pleadings are presented to the ...


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