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Dodge v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

January 30, 2017

ESTELEAN JEANETTE DODGE PLAINTIFF
v.
HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          BILLY ROY WILSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 11). Plaintiff has responded and Defendant has replied.[1] As set out below, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.

         I.BACKGROUND[2]

         The following facts are taken as true in resolving Defendant's Motion: Plaintiff Estelean Jeanette Dodge participated in the Group Long Term Disability Plan for Employees of Sisters of Mercy Health System (the “Policy”), underwritten and administered by Defendant Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company. Ms. Dodge became disabled on July 12, 2011. Hartford denied Ms. Dodge's application for long-term benefits on September 5, 2013. Ms. Dodge appealed that denial. Hartford affirmed on November 18, 2013. Ms. Dodge filed her Complaint on October 6, 2016, [3] under ERISA (the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974[4]).

         The Policy had a clause that limited the period that Ms. Dodge could sue Hartford to recover benefits under the Policy. The Policy's limitation-period clause read:

Legal action cannot be taken against [Hartford]:
1) sooner than 60 days after the date proof of loss is given; or
2) more than 3 years after the date Proof of Loss is required to be given according to the terms of The Policy.

         Hartford asserts that Ms. Dodge's Complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted because it was filed beyond the Policy's limitation period.[5] Ms. Dodge asserts that the Policy's limitation period is void under Arkansas law; or, alternatively, that it did not begin to run until her claim accrued on November 18, 2013 (when she received written notice that Hartford was upholding its denial of benefits).[6]

         II. STANDARD

         A complaint need only contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.[7] A motion to dismiss should not be granted merely because the complaint “does not state with precision all elements that give rise to a legal basis for recovery.”[8]“[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.”[9] Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, it must provide more than mere labels, conclusions, and formulaic recitation of the elements of a claim.[10] In resolving a motion to dismiss courts accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.[11]

         III. DISCUSSION

         “ERISA ‘contains no statute of limitations for actions to recover benefits under a regulated plan.'”[12] It has long been held that parties to a contract for insurance are free to agree to a the limitation period, so long as the agreed-upon limitation period is reasonable and is not otherwise prohibited by statute.[13] Ms. Dodge contends that the Policy's agreed-upon limitation period is “otherwise prohibited by statute” under Section 23-79-202 of the Arkansas Code, which reads:

(a) An action may be maintained . . . to recover on any claim or loss arising under a policy of insurance on property or life . . . at any time within [five years after the cause of action accrues].[14]
(b) Any stipulation or provision in the policy or contract requiring the action to be brought within any shorter time or be barred is void.[15]

         The plain language of Section 23-79-202(b) only prohibits parties from shortening the limitation period to file an action “arising under a ...


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