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Lisa Dalton, et al v. Hartford Life Insurance Company

August 1, 2011

LISA DALTON, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HARTFORD LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs, Lisa Dalton ("Dalton") and the Dalton Agency (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), brought this action against Defendants, Hartford Life Insurance Company and Hartford Life and Annuity Insurance Company (collectively, "Hartford"), Janis Rose Bevivino ("Bevivino"), and Steve Ruel ("Ruel") (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging claims for employment discrimination and breach of contract, as well as tortious interference with prospective economic gain. (Dkt. entry no. 1, Rmv. Notice, Ex.

A, Compl.) Defendants removed to this Court and moved to dismiss the claims asserted against Ruel and claim four, the tortious interference claim asserted against Hartford, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6). (Dkt. entry no. 11, Mot. to Dismiss.) The parties previously stipulated to the dismissal of the breach of contract claims. (Dkt. entry no. 10, 4-7-11 Order.) Since the Motion was filed, the parties have also stipulated to the dismissal of all claims against Ruel. (Dkt. entry no. 28, 5-12-11 Order.) Thus, the Court need only consider claim four here. The Court determines the Motion without oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). The Court will grant the Motion with respect to claim four and will deny the remainder as moot.

BACKGROUND

Dalton served as an insurance agent (also known as a "General Agent" ("GA")) for Hartford from approximately September 2003 to April 2010. (Compl. at 2; dkt. entry no. 11, Def. Br. at 1.) She reported to a Field Marketing Director ("FMD") named Miriam Hayden ("Hayden"). (Compl. at 2.) Dalton, in turn, had agents (also referred to by the parties as "subagents," "producers," or "subproducers") who reported to her. (Id.) Her GA duties included "recruiting, hiring and training producers, developing territories, providing support and motivation to producers and sub-producers, delivering and distributing commission checks, statements, bulletins, notices and other communications from the FMD. In addition, [Plaintiffs'] office served as the main hub through which all of [] Hayden's business would proceed." (Id.)

Dalton's relationship with Hartford was governed by four agreements, a "Producer Contract," a "General Agent Addendum" ("GA Addendum") to the Producer Contract, and two other addenda not relevant here. (Compl., Ex. A, Producer Contract; id., Ex. B, GA Addendum; id., Exs. C & D.) The Producer Contract states that "[Hartford] appoints you as our sales agent to represent us in accordance with this Contract. You are authorized to solicit and procure applications for Company Insurance policies and annuities," and "you are an independent contractor and are free to exercise your discretion and judgment . . . ." (Producer Contract at ¶¶ 1-2.) The Producer Contract states it may be terminated without cause, among other reasons, once it has been in effect for more than 120 days, by either party, with thirty days written notice. (Id. at ¶ 7.) It also lists the ways it may be terminated for cause. (Id.) Finally, it contains an arbitration provision, which states that "[a]ny controversy or claim occurring under, relating to or in connection with any provisions of this Contract or the breach of such provisions, unless resolved by mutual agreement of the parties, will be finally settled by arbitration . . . ." (Id. at ¶ 9.)

The GA Addendum states that it "supplements and is part of the Producer Contract between you and [Hartford]." (See GA Addendum.) It gives GAs certain rights and responsibilities, including the ability to (1) "recruit and appoint, with our prior approval, Producers and Brokers (Subproducers) who will be assigned to you to solicit and procure applications for our policies," (2) "exercise proper supervision of your Subproducers," and (3) "provide training and support for your Subproducers." (Id. at ¶ 2.) Hartford reserves for itself, with regard to a GA's Subproducers, the rights to "approve or reject any of the recruited Subproducers" and "terminate any of your Subproducers, according to the applicable provisions of their Producer Contract," among others. (Id. at ¶ 3.) The GA Addendum also states that:

Both parties agree that the Subproducers shall not be the property of either party and neither party shall have exclusive right to such Subproducers.

a. Upon termination of your Producer Contract without cause, we agree, for a period of 90 days, not to enter into an agreement with your Subproducers which includes a higher Schedule of Commissions than the Schedule in effect at the time of your Contract termination.

b. Upon termination of your Producer Contract for cause, we may immediately enter into agreements with your Subproducers which may include any Schedule of Commissions which we deem appropriate.

(Id. at ¶ 8.)

According to the Complaint, Dalton "recruited and invested in" her agents by "providing training, purchasing leads and assisting them administratively." (Compl. at 4.) As a result, it was "the expectation that [she] would reap the benefits of that investment." (Id.) However, the Complaint alleges that:

On or about April 2010, Defendant Hartford sent notices to all of Plaintiff's agents notifying them of Plaintiffs termination, prior to Plaintiff even receiving notice of said termination and despite a thirty day notice requirement, notifying them of their termination. Defendant Hartford then informed them that they could sign on with another FMD . . . Plaintiffs [sic] agents were told that they would get the deferred compensation and paychecks that were being held once they signed up with [another FMD]. Four of Plaintiff's agents, including her best agent, signed up with [another FMD]. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiffs contend that "[b]y sending the notices of termination to the agents and holding ...


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