United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
KAREN BRIGGS, individually and as personal representative of the ESTATE OF CHRISTOPHER A. NEUMANN, Plaintiff,
NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURGH, PA, et al., Defendants.
J. QUIST UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Karen Briggs, sued Defendants alleging various claims under
the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA),
29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. Briggs is the mother
of decedent Christopher Neumann, as well as the personal
representative of his estate, and a beneficiary of a group
Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) policy that
Neumann obtained through his employer, Weber Shandwick. Weber
Shandwick is a subsidiary of Defendant Interpublic Group of
Companies, Inc. (IPG). Briggs also sued the IPG Welfare
Benefit Plan (the Plan) and National Union Fire Insurance
Company of Pittsburgh (National Union), which provided the
August 8, 2017, the Court issued an opinion and order
regarding the Defendants' motions to dismiss. The Court
granted the motions in part, dismissing Count II against IPG
but not the Plan, Counts III and V against IPG and the Plan,
and Count IV against National Union. (ECF No. 45.) The Court
dismissed Briggs' claims for equitable relief because
Briggs could not show that Defendants IPG and National Union
misrepresented terms of the insurance plan. Briggs argued
that the Benefits Guide was a misrepresentation because it
failed to disclose terms that could defeat coverage, and that
Neumann only received the Benefits Guide and no other
documents regarding the Accidental Death and Dismemberment
(AD&D) policy coverage. The Court rejected this argument
because the Benefits Guide contains explicit language stating
that it was not an official plan document or summary plan
description. Briggs' remaining claims are as follows:
Count I against National Union: for benefits under 29 U.S.C.
Count II against the Plan: for benefits under 29 U.S.C.
Count IV against IPG: for civil penalties under 29 U.S.C.
and National Union filed motions for judgment on the
administrative record (ECF Nos. 65 & 61), and IPG and the
Plan filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 62.) The
motions are fully briefed. On June 28, 2018, the Court heard
oral argument on the parties' motions.
Claim for Benefits
seeks benefits from either NUFIC or the Plan under 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(a)(1)(B). It is undisputed that the benefits that
Briggs seeks are expressly excluded by the AD&D policy.
The Court previously held that “[n]o reasonable
employee would be misled into believing that the Benefits
Guide represented the terms and conditions of a policy when
it explicitly states otherwise.” Briggs v.
Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, No.
1:16-CV-1197, 2017 WL 3392765, at *4 (W.D. Mich. Aug. 8,
2017). National Union and the Plan's alleged failure to
disclose the full policy provisions does not entitle Briggs
to a substantive award for benefits. See, e.g.,
Lewandowski v. Occidental Chem. Corp., 986 F.2d
1006, 1009 (6th Cir.1993); Schornhorst v. Ford
Motor Co., 606 F.Supp.2d 658, 668 (E.D. Mich. 2009).
Therefore, even under de novo review, Briggs'
claim for benefits is untenable. Briggs has not shown that
the Benefits Guide should serve as the operative insurance
Sixth Circuit's recent decision in Pearce v. Chrysler
Group LLC Pension Plan, ---F.3d ---, 615 Fed.Appx. 342
(6th Cir. June 20, 2018), is unavailing. The instant facts
are distinguishable from those in Pearce-the
plaintiff in Pearce chose to reject a buy-out offer
due to his reliance on the Summary Plan Description (SPD)
plus conversations he had with Chrysler personnel, only to be
denied benefits he thought he was entitled. Furthermore,
Pearce's claim went forward to determine whether he was
entitled to equitable relief pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §
1132(a)(3). Here, Briggs did not rely upon the Benefits Guide
in making a choice as in Pearce- her son,
Christopher Neumann, died, and she is seeking benefits.
Briggs has not presented any admissible evidence that her son
would not have purchased the AD&D policy if he knew it
excluded death benefits when the death occurs from the crash
of a private airplane.. In the absence of any admissible
evidence as to what the deceased, Neumann, said was on his
mind when he purchased the policy, Briggs' testimony, and
any statements about the decedent's thoughts, intentions,
and decisions regarding the AD&D policy are speculative.
Supreme Court has also emphasized looking to the plan itself,
not summary plan descriptions-making summaries enforceable
“might bring about complexity that would defeat the
fundamental purpose of the summaries, ” i.e.,
to provide clear, simple, comprehensible, and general
descriptions of a plan. CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 563
U.S. 421, 436-38, 131 S.Ct. 1866, 1877-78 (2011); see
also Pearce, 615 Fed.Appx. at 346 (applying the explicit
terms of the plan for claim under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(b),
and citing CIGNA, 563 U.S. at 438, 131 S.Ct. at
Candeub v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, 577
F.Supp.2d 918 (W.D. Mich. 2006), another judge in this
district observed that “[t]he massive weight of
authority, then, is that insurance booklets do not qualify as
SPDs, unless they contain all or substantially all of the
required information under the statute and regulation.”
Id. at 931. Magistrate Judge Scoville rejected the
plaintiff's argument that a benefits guide, similar to
the Benefits Guide at issue here, qualified as a controlling
SPD. The reasoning in Candeub is persuasive, and the
Benefits Guide is not controlling.