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Woerner v. Fram Group Operations, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 5, 2017

LOU ANN WOERNER, as the beneficiary of Michael J. Woerner, Plaintiff,
v.
FRAM GROUP OPERATIONS, LLC, and THAT CERTAIN EMPLOYEE WELFARE BENEFIT PLAN SPONSOED BY FRAM GROUP OPERATIONS, LLC, Defendants. FRAM GROUP OPERATIONS, LLC, and THAT CERTAIN EMPLOYEE WELFARE BENEFIT PLAN SPONSOED BY FRAM GROUP OPERATIONS, LLC, Third Party Plaintiffs,
v.
LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA, Third Party Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          STANLEY R. CHESLER United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Lou Ann Woerner (“Plaintiff”) brought this action against Defendant FRAM Group Operations, LLC (“FRAM”)[1] to challenge a denial of life insurance benefits allegedly owed to her as the beneficiary of her late husband's employee welfare benefit plan. FRAM subsequently filed a third-party complaint against the Life Insurance Company of North America (“CIGNA”), the fiduciary for its life insurance plan (Docket No. 134). The Court granted (Docket No. 151) CIGNA's motion to dismiss this third-party complaint. FRAM has now filed a motion for reconsideration (Docket No. 154), which CIGNA opposes (Docket No. 158). The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions and proceeds to rule without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, FRAM's motion for reconsideration is dismissed with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In her amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant established a benefits plan for its employees, which included basic and voluntary life insurance, and that Plaintiff's husband enrolled in this plan. Plaintiff alleges that this coverage became effective prior to her husband's death, even though CIGNA did not delivery a formal life insurance plan to Defendant until after Mr. Woerner had died. Plaintiff alleges she was named the sole beneficiary, and that Defendant has denied Plaintiffs benefits to which she is rightfully entitled.

         Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. By order dated June 30, 2015, the Court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment and denied its motion to compel joinder with CIGNA as moot. Plaintiff appealed, and on September 12, 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated this Court's order, remanding the case “for application of the correct standard as to the existence and terms of the Plan at the time that [Plaintiff's] benefits, if any, vested.” Woerner v. FRAM Grp. Operations, LLC, 658 F. App'x 90, 97 (3d Cir. 2016). While the formal plan was not established until after the death of Plaintiff's husband, the Third Circuit held that an “informal plan” may have existed prior to the death, which “constitute[d]” “informal written and oral communications.” Id. at 90. The Third Circuit instructed this Court to disregard evidence of “the version of the Plan delivered to and executed by FRAM after Mr. Woerner's death, ” because such evidence is not probative of the terms of any informal plan governing Plaintiff's claims. Id. at 96-97.

         Upon remand, FRAM filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), which this Court denied. FRAM then filed its answer and a third-party complaint (“TPC”) against CIGNA. The TPC states that “if . . . benefits are due to Plaintiff, those benefits are payable solely by CIGNA, ” and the TPC asserts claims for “equitable relief” and indemnification. According to the TPC, CIGNA accepted appointment as a “Claim Fiduciary” and agreed to be “responsible for adjudicating benefits under the Plan” and to accept “sole liability to the Plan and to Participants and Beneficiaries . . . for the payment of benefits provided with respect to Policies issued by [CIGNA] to the Plan.” (TPC ¶¶ 11-13.) The TPC alleges that “CIGNA . . . issued a group life insurance policy, No. FLX964429, that was effective January 1, 2012 and [that] provides the sole source of funds for benefits payable under the plan” governing Plaintiff's claims. (TPC ¶ 14.) The TPC also alleges that a Wrap Around Document memorializes the relevant terms of the policy, and this document “provides that all benefits payable ‘through a Group Insurance Policy shall be paid solely pursuant to the terms of the Group Insurance Policy.'” (TPC ¶¶ 17-18.)

         By order dated October 4, 2017, this Court granted CIGNA's motion to dismiss the TPC. This Court found that the documents FRAM relied upon in its TPC pertained only to the formal plan issued after Mr. Woerner's death, and thus could not justify a reasonable inference that CIGNA possessed authority or bore any obligation with respect to any informal plan potentially governing Plaintiff's claims. Defendant now appeals the dismissal of the third-party complaint.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In the Third Circuit, a court should only grant a motion for reconsideration when the moving party shows one of three circumstances: 1) there is newly available evidence; 2) there is a need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice; or 3) there is an intervening change in the controlling law. N. River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reins. Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995). To satisfy its burden of demonstrating the need for reconsideration, the moving party must set forth “concisely the matters or controlling decisions which counsel believes the court has overlooked.” Database Am., Inc. v. Bellsouth Advert. & Pub. Corp., 825 F.Supp. 1216, 1220 (D.N.J. 1993).

         Reconsideration is not appropriate “where the motion only raises a party's disagreement with the Court's initial decision.” Florham Park Chevron, Inc. v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 680 F.Supp. 159, 163 (D.N.J. 1988). Reconsideration is likewise not a “vehicle to reargue the motion or to present evidence which should have been raised before.” Id. at 1220. In seeking reconsideration, the moving party bears a “heavy burden” to meet this standard. Hunter v. Filip, 2011 WL 6303257, at *2 (D.N.J. Dec. 15, 2011). The mere “recapitulation of the cases and arguments considered by the court before rendering its original decision fails to carry the moving party's burden.” G-69 v. Degnan, 748 F.Supp. 274, 275 (D.N.J.1990).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Defendant Identifies No Clear Error Of Law Or Manifest Injustice To Warrant Reconsideration

         In its dismissal of the TPC, the Court found that Defendant relied on documents that were either created after Mr. Woerner's death (the Policy and the Wrap Around Document) or that only concerned formal insurance policies that CIGNA actually issued (the Group Life Insurance Certificate and Claim Fiduciary Appointment). As such, these documents could not constitute or provide “surrounding circumstances” regarding the existence of an informal plan at the moment the benefits vested, and thus could not establish that CIGNA possessed authority or bore obligations with respect to any informal plan.

         In its motion, Defendant argues that the Claim Fiduciary Appointment document “precludes a conclusion that CIGNA could not have any ‘fiduciary, statutory, or contractual' obligation to the plan.” Defendant previously raised this argument in its TPC, and such recapitulation of arguments is not proper in a motion for reconsideration. As the Court noted in its decision, Defendant's interpretation is not persuasive ...


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