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Davis v. Sedgwick Claims Mgmt. Servs.

United States District Court, S.D. New York
Sep 17, 2021
21-CV-7090 (LTS) (S.D.N.Y. Sep. 17, 2021)


21-CV-7090 (LTS)





Plaintiff, appearing pro se and invoking the Court's federal question and diversity jurisdiction, brings this case under 29 U.SC. §§ 1133 and 1135, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and state law. By order dated August 24, 2021, the Court granted Plaintiff's request to proceed without prepayment of fees, that is, in forma pauperis (IFP). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint within sixty days of the date of this order.


The Court must dismiss an IFP complaint, or portion thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); see Livingston v. Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998). The Court must also dismiss a complaint when the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). While the law mandates dismissal on any of these grounds, the Court is obliged to construe pro se pleadings liberally, Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009), and interpret them to raise the “strongest [claims] that they suggest, ” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474-75 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (emphasis in original).


Plaintiff Laura Davis, who is a resident of California, filed this complaint against Sedgwick Claims Management Services, a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in Tennessee and a “service address” in Albany, New York. (ECF 1 at 4.) Plaintiff claims that the underlying facts occurred in California and New York from 2017 to the present.

Citations are to the Electronic Case Filing (ECF) system's pagination.

Following are the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint.

1981 claim: I am black, I had an employment contract with Delta Airlines, Inc. Because of my race, Defendant Sedgwick impaired my employment contract with Delta Airlines.
ERISA claim: Defendant Sedgwick CMS refused and denied and failed to pay my short term and long term and retirement benefits under Delta's plan.
Defamation: Defendant Sedgwick CMS told third parties, in California and New York, including my employer, Delta Airlines, Inc. that I am a “pole dancer” and a “stripper” who gives “naked lap dances” and does “peep shows” and that I'm a “pimp” who sells females for sex and that I committed “workers compensation fraud” and that I was involved in a “Fraudulent scam” where I was selling travel benefits to unknown third parties to “steal” money from Delta Airlines, Inc.

(Id. at 5.)

Plaintiff asserts that she suffers from disabling “leg and back injuries, ” and that Sedgwick “refuses to provide substantial medical treatment.” Plaintiff seeks $50 million in “restitution” for money she “paid into Delta's long and short term disability plans and retirement plans, emotional damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, loss of income, back pay, loss of health insurance, any relief under ERISA and 1981 for impairment of my employment contract.” (Id. at 6.)

In the caption of her complaint, Plaintiff asserts that this matter is related to Azzarmi v. Neubauer, No. 20-CV-9155 (KMK), a pending pro se case filed by another Delta Airlines employee against a number of defendants, including Sedgwick. Plaintiff, Azzarmi, and another Delta employee filed a joint lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Sedgwick and other defendants. See Azzarmi et al. v. Delta Airlines, et al., No. 20-CV-1529 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 16, 2021) (order dismissing complaint on res judicata grounds); 21-55265 (9th Cir. Aug. 16, 2021) (granting Plaintiff's motion to voluntarily dismiss appeal and dismissing as frivolous the appeal of Azzarmi and other plaintiff).



Plaintiff asserts a claim under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) for the recovery of benefits from her employee benefits plan. “ERISA is a comprehensive statute designed to promote the interests of employees and their beneficiaries in employee benefit plans.” Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S. 85, 90 (1983). The civil enforcement scheme set forth in 29 U.S.C. § 1132 “is one of the essential tools for accomplishing the stated purposes of ERISA.” Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41, 52, 54 (1987). A civil action may be brought under ERISA

by a participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary (A) to enjoin any act or practice which violates any provision of this subchapter or the terms of the plan, or (B) to obtain other appropriate equitable relief (i) to redress such violations or (ii) to enforce any provisions of this subchapter or the terms of the plan.

29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3).

Plaintiff alleges generally that she was improperly denied benefits. To state such a claim under the ERISA statute, a plaintiff must allege that the benefit plan is an ERISA plan, that the plaintiff is a participant in the plan, and that the defendant breached its ERISA-imposed duty to pay the plaintiff under the terms of the plan. See Carlson v. Principal Fin. Group, 320 F.3d 301, 306-308 (2d Cir. 2003); Harrison v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 417 F.Supp.2d 424, 434 n.2 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (noting that ERISA “enables a beneficiary to bring a claim to recover benefits due under an ERISA plan.”).

Even if the Court assumes that the plan at issue is covered by ERISA and that Plaintiff is a plan participant or beneficiary, she fails to state a claim under ERISA because she does not allege facts suggesting that Defendant improperly denied her claim for benefits. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant refused or failed to pay her “short term and long term and retirement benefits under Delta's plan, ” but she does not explain the reasons why the claims were denied, and why the denial was improper. The Court grants Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint to provide more facts to support her ERISA claim.

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1981

Section 1981 “protects the equal right of ‘[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States' to ‘make and enforce contracts' without respect to race.” Domino's Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 474 (2006) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a)). To state a section 1981 claim, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) she is a member of a racial minority; (2) the defendants intended to discriminate on the basis of race; and (3) the discrimination concerns one of the statute's enumerated activities. Id. at 476 (holding that a plaintiff is entitled to relief under § 1981 “when racial discrimination blocks the creation of a contractual relationship, as well as when racial discrimination impairs an existing contractual relationship.”).

Plaintiff's allegations do not state a claim under section 1981. At the outset, Plaintiff asserts that Sedgwick “impaired” her contract with Delta Airlines, but she does not provide facts explaining what occurred, and it is not apparent to the Court what she means. Also, Plaintiff alleges that she is a black woman, and that Sedgwick denied her claims for benefits, but there are no facts showing a connection between Plaintiff's race and the denial of her claims or other aspect of the manner in which her claim was handled. If Plaintiff chooses to amend her complaint, she should allege facts suggesting that Defendants' conduct was motivated by race-based animus.

C. Defamation

In general, to state a claim for defamation under New York law, a plaintiff must allege: “(1) a false statement about the plaintiff; (2) published to a third party without authorization or privilege; (3) through fault amounting to at least negligence on part of the publisher; (4) that either constitutes defamation per se or caused ‘special damages.'” Gargiulo v. Forster & Garbus Esqs., 651 F.Supp.2d 188, 192 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (citing Dillon v. City of New York, 261 A.D.2d 34, 38, 704 N.Y.S.2d 1 (1st. Dept. 1999), Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 558). The statute of limitations for a defamation claim under New York law is one year. N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 215(3); McKenzie v. Dow Jones & Co., 355 Fed.Appx. 533, 535 (2d Cir. 2009) (summary order). The limitations period begins to run from the date of the first publication of the defamatory statement. See Firth v. State, 98 N.Y.2d 365, 369 (2002) (noting that the dissemination of an allegedly defamatory publication “gives rise to one cause of action and that the applicable statute of limitations runs from the date of that publication” (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted)).

Plaintiff does not provide sufficient facts to state a defamation claim, because she does not explain who made the statements, the manner in which the statements were published, and to whom they were published. Moreover, if the allegedly defamatory statements were published more than one year ago, Plaintiff's complaint may be untimely. The Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend her complaint to provide additional facts in support of this claim and to allege any facts showing that the defamation claims are timely.

Where the existence of an affirmative defense, such as the statute of limitations, is plain from the face of the pleading, the Court may dismiss the action sua sponte. See Walters v. Indus. & Commercial Bank of China, Ltd., 651 F.3d 280, 293 (2d Cir. 2011) (“[D]istrict courts may dismiss an action sua sponte on limitations grounds in certain circumstances where the facts supporting the statute of limitations defense are set forth in the papers plaintiff himself submitted.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Pino v. Ryan, 49 F.3d 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1995) (affirming sua sponte dismissal of complaint as frivolous on statute of limitations grounds); see also Abbas, 480 F.3d at 640 (concluding that district court should grant notice and opportunity to be heard before dismissing complaint sua sponte on statute of limitations grounds).

D. Relatedness

Plaintiff's motion to have this matter assigned to Judge Karas as related to Azzarmi v. Neubauer, No. 20-CV-9155 (KMK), is denied. This case was assigned to my docket under Rule 1 of the Rules for the Division of Business Among District Judges (RDB). “As their preamble makes clear, the RDB rules ‘are adopted for the internal management of the case load of the court and shall not be deemed to vest any rights in litigants or their attorneys.'” United States v. Donziger, Nos. 19-CR-561, 11-CV-691, 2020 WL 2216556, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. May 7, 2020) (emphasis omitted); see also United States v. Brennerman, Nos. 17-CR-155, 15-CV-70, 2017 WL 3421397, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 8, 2017) (“[T]he RDB vest no rights in litigants-they are for internal management only.” (collecting cases)).

Under Rule 13(a)(1), a judge is to consider several factors in determining relatedness, including whether: “(A) the actions concern the same or substantially similar parties, property, transactions or events; (B) there is a substantial factual overlap; (C) the parties could be subjected to conflicting orders; and (D) whether absent a determination of relatedness there would be a substantial duplication of effort and expense, delay, or undue burden on the Court, parties or witnesses.” Moreover, “[c]ivil cases shall not be deemed related merely because they involve common legal issues or the same parties.” See RDB 13(a)(2)(A); In re Reyes, 2019 WL 6170901, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. 2019); Lan Sang v. Ming Hai, No. 12-CV-7103 (VEC), 2014 WL 12935807, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2014).

Having reviewed Plaintiff's complaint and the docket in No. 20-CV-9155, and having considered the relevant factors, the Court finds that the cases are not related. Plaintiff's application to have this matter assigned to Judge Karas is therefore denied.


Plaintiff proceeds in this matter without the benefit of an attorney. District courts generally should grant a self-represented plaintiff an opportunity to amend a complaint to cure its defects, unless amendment would be futile. See Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 123-24 (2d Cir. 2011); Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d Cir. 1988). Indeed, the Second Circuit has cautioned that district courts “should not dismiss [a pro se complaint] without granting leave to amend at least once when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated.” Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Gomez v. USAA Fed. Sav. Bank, 171 F.3d 794, 795 (2d Cir. 1999)). Because Plaintiff may be able to allege additional facts to state a valid claim, the Court grants Plaintiff 60 days' leave to amend her complaint to detail her claims as set forth in this order.

In the “Statement of Claim” section of the amended complaint form, Plaintiff must provide a short and plain statement of the relevant facts supporting each claim against each defendant. If Plaintiff has an address for any named defendant, Plaintiff must provide it. Plaintiff should include all of the information in the amended complaint that Plaintiff wants the Court to consider in deciding whether the amended complaint states a claim for relief. That information should include:

a) the names and titles of all relevant people;
b) a description of all relevant events, including what each defendant did or failed to do, the approximate date and time of each event, and the general location where each event occurred;
c) a description of the injuries Plaintiff suffered; and
d) the relief Plaintiff seeks, such as money damages, injunctive relief, or declaratory relief.

Essentially, Plaintiff's amended complaint should tell the Court: who violated her federally protected rights and how; when and where such violations occurred; and why Plaintiff is entitled to relief.

Because Plaintiff's amended complaint will completely replace, not supplement, the original complaint, any facts or claims that Plaintiff wants to include from the original complaint must be repeated in the amended complaint.


Plaintiff is granted leave to file an amended complaint that complies with the standards set forth above. Plaintiff must submit the amended complaint to this Court's Pro Se Intake Unit within sixty days of the date of this order, caption the document as an “Amended Complaint, ” and label the document with docket number 21-CV-7090 (LTS). An Amended Complaint form is attached to this order. No summons will issue at this time. If Plaintiff fails to comply within the time allowed, and she cannot show good cause to excuse such failure, the complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

Plaintiff has consented to receive electronic service. (ECF 3.)

The Court certifies under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal from this order would not be taken in good faith, and therefore in forma pauperis status is denied for the purpose of an appeal. Cf. Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962) (holding that an appellant demonstrates good faith when he seeks review of a nonfrivolous issue).


Summaries of

Davis v. Sedgwick Claims Mgmt. Servs.

United States District Court, S.D. New York
Sep 17, 2021
21-CV-7090 (LTS) (S.D.N.Y. Sep. 17, 2021)
Case details for

Davis v. Sedgwick Claims Mgmt. Servs.

Case Details


Court:United States District Court, S.D. New York

Date published: Sep 17, 2021


21-CV-7090 (LTS) (S.D.N.Y. Sep. 17, 2021)