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Foster v. Penn Millers Insurance Co.

July 22, 2010

IVAN D. FOSTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PENN MILLERS INSURANCE COMPANY, STEPHEN G. SWEET ESQ., SWEET PASQUARELLI PC, GREGORY D. WINTER ESQ., WINTER & WINKLER PC, THOMAS JEFFERSON HOSPITAL, DELRAN BAGELS, ELMER NALENVANKO, TROY DILEMMA AND JOHN, JANE, JACK, AND JAMES DOES 1-100, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

This case concerns plaintiff's claims that his employer, his employer's workers' compensation insurer, several medical providers, and two attorneys and their law firms conspired to deny him the workers' compensation benefits he is entitled to for a work-related accident that occurred in January 2001. Presently before the Court are the motions of the properly-served defendants to dismiss plaintiff's claims against them. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motions will be granted, and the remaining claims against the other defendants will be dismissed.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Ivan D. Foster, who is appearing pro se, was an employee of Delran Bagels, in Delran, New Jersey. He contends that on January 7, 2001, he sustained a back injury at work. In his complaint, plaintiff relates that he was denied workers' compensation benefits beyond the two weeks of temporary benefits provided by defendant, Pennsylvania Millers Insurance Company ("Penn Millers"), which was Delran Bagels' workers' compensation insurer. It appears that in his claim for workers' compensation benefits, plaintiff contended that he suffered from a herniated disc and "Post Concussion Syndrome" as a result of the work injury, but that doctors retained by Penn Millers falsely determined that his numerous herniated discs were pre-existing conditions.

Because of the denial of benefits, plaintiff filed a claim with the New Jersey Division of Workers' Compensation. Although it is unclear from plaintiff's complaint, it appears that plaintiff is claiming that contemporaneous with the workers' compensation claim proceedings, Penn Millers and its attorney, Stephen Sweet*fn2 , filed unspecified criminal charges against him, which plaintiff claims was a conspiracy to extort a settlement from him.*fn3 Plaintiff further claims that Penn Millers' subsequent attorney, Gregory Winter,*fn4 joined the conspiracy to extort a settlement from plaintiff, along with Penn Millers' medical providers and claims administrators, and two supervisory employees at Delran Bagels. Plaintiff alleges that defendants' conspiracy was in part due to his status as a disabled "Black American."

Because of the conspiracy perpetrated by all the defendants, plaintiff alleges that he is owed $150,000 in workers' compensation benefits, and not the $85,000 he settled for. Plaintiff also claims that he is entitled to $150 million in punitive damages. Plaintiff brings his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951 and 1961, and N.J.S.A. 34:15-1.

Defendants Gregory Winters and his law firm, Stephen Sweet and his law firm, Penn Millers, and Thomas Jefferson Hospital have moved to dismiss*fn5 plaintiff's claims against them.*fn6 Plaintiff has opposed defendants' motions.

DISCUSSION

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Even though plaintiff alleges several federal laws as a basis for this Court's jurisdiction, the only viable ones are 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), which prohibits certain categories of conduct relating to two or more persons acting together in a conspiracy for a racial or class-based reason, and 18 U.S.C. § 1961, which provides a civil remedy for RICO violations.*fn7 Thus, this Court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343.

B. Motion to Dismiss Standard

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 Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) ("Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for 'all civil actions' . . . ."); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) ("Iqbal . . . provides the final nail-in-the-coffin for the 'no set of facts' standard that applied to federal complaints before Twombly.").

Following the Twombly/Iqbal standard, the Third Circuit has instructed a two-part analysis in reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; a district court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). Second, a district court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). A complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. Id.; 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 ...


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