Connecticut District Court Enforces ERISA Venue Provisions and Dismisses Lawsuit with No Connection to Connecticut
In Cook v. Life Insurance Company of North America et al., No. 3:20-cv-139, the plaintiff, Robert Cook, sued Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA), and its indirect corporate parent, Cigna Corporation, for denial of long-term disability benefits under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Cook lived in Tennessee (and his lawyer was located there), his employer/plan sponsor was based in Florida, and LINA, the insurer, was located in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, Cook brought suit in Connecticut, alleging venue was proper because he had also sued LINA’s indirect parent, Cigna Corporation, which is a Connecticut corporation.
Cigna Corporation moved to dismiss claims against it for failure to state a claim, and LINA moved to dismiss for improper venue, or, in the alternative, to transfer venue. The Connecticut District Court (the Court) granted the motion and dismissed the action.
The Court dismissed the case against Cigna Corporation for failing to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Although Cook alleged that Cigna Corporation had “total control and dominance” of LINA, the Court held that these statements “are unsupported and contradicted by the terms of the plan.” The Court noted that the “plain language of the plan . . . reveals that LINA has underwritten the claim, is the named resource for claim disputes, and is named twice as the issuer of the plan.” Although the plan document described LINA as a “Cigna company,” the Court held “[t]his passing reference is insufficient to establish [Cigna Corporation] as a proper party here.” Because Cook’s allegations concerning Cigna Corporation’s involvement in the matter were directly contrary to the express plan documents, the Court found that he had not stated “a plausible claim of relief” against Cigna Corporation.
The Court then addressed whether venue was still proper in the District of Connecticut after Cigna Corporation was dismissed from the case. It noted that ERISA has a statutory venue provision, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2), providing for venue in the federal judicial district where: “(a) the plan is administered; (b) the breach took place; or (c) where a defendant resides or may be found.” The Court dismissed the balance of the case in its entirety, noting:
“As the court concluded that [Cigna Corporation] is not an appropriate party to this case, the only viable defendant is LINA. Cook’s former employer, Crown, is based in Florida. The defendant, LINA, is based in Pennsylvania. Cook is a resident of Tennessee, and all of the events giving rise to the claim in this case took place in Tennessee. In light of the court’s dismissal of [Cigna Corporation] from this this case, there is no viable defendant that may be found in Connecticut. Further, as previously discussed, the provisions of the plan indicate that Crown, a Florida corporation, administered the plan. Accordingly, pursuant to the requirements of section 1132(e)(2), venue is not appropriate here.”
Defendants who believe venue is improper may wish to consider the Court’s opinion in Cook.
The full text of the District Court opinion may be found at this link: Ruling on Defendants Motion to Dismiss.