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Robinson v. American General Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

July 10, 2014

William Robinson, as personal representative of the estate of Franklin Allen Mitchell; and Meredith Mitchell, Plaintiffs,
v.
American General Life Insurance Company, Defendant.

ORDER

JOSEPH F. ANDERSON, Jr., District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on Defendant's Motion for a judgment on the pleadings in this life insurance policy dispute. (ECF No. 10). Sole defendant American General Life Insurance Co. ("Defendant") moves to dismiss both causes of action: (1) breach of contract; and (2) breach of contract brought by third party beneficiary. William Robinson, as personal representative of the estate of Franklin Allen Mitchell, and Meredith Mitchell ("Plaintiffs") oppose the motion.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs filed this suit in state court on April 3, 2014. Defendant removed the action to this court on April 11, 2014, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Defendant answered, and then moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to FRCP 12(c). The following facts are taken from the complaint and are accepted as true.

On February 1, 2011 ("Date of Issue"), Franklin Allen Mitchell purchased a life insurance policy from Defendant, payable in the event of his death in the amount of $800, 000.00. The policy included the following exclusion:

In the event of the suicide of the insured, while sane or insane, within two years from the Date of Issue, [Defendant's] liability will be limited to the premiums paid.

ECF No. 1-1, p. 14. Mr. Mitchell paid all premiums on time. Mr. Mitchell listed his wife, Meredith Mitchell as the sole beneficiary of the policy.

On September 9, 2012, Mr. Mitchell was found dead, having died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Ms. Mitchell claimed benefits under the policy. Defendant sent a check, in the amount of premiums paid under the policy, to Ms. Mitchell. Ms. Mitchell returned the check and demanded the full policy amount of $800, 000.00. This suit followed.

Mr. Mitchell had been receiving treatment from the Three Rivers Center for Behavioral Health ("Three Rivers") for depression, and "did not want to die." ECF No. 1-1, p. 5. According to three expert affidavits attached to the complaint, Three Rivers provided care that fell below the relevant standard of care. Thus, according to expert opinions, Mr. Mitchell's death was "caused by the negligence of third-parties and not due to any conscious decision or intention to take his own life." Id.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Courts "appl[y] the same standard for Rule 12(c) motions as for motions made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)." Burbach Broad. Co. of Delaware v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2002). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true the facts alleged in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.3d 245, 251 (4th Cir. 1999). The United States Supreme Court has stated, however, that "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although "a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, " a pleading "will not do" if it merely offers "labels and conclusions, " or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Likewise, "a complaint [will not] suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancements.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Accordingly, Plaintiff must put forth claims that cross "the line from conceivable to plausible." Id. at 680 (internal quotation omitted). The court "need not accept the [plaintiff's] legal conclusions drawn from the facts, " nor need it "accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Wahi v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., Inc., 562 F.3d 599, 616 n.26 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

IV. ANALYSIS

Pursuant to S.C. Code ยง 38-63-225(A), "If an individual life insurance policy contains a suicide provision, it may not limit payment of benefits for a period more than two years from the date of issue of the policy and it must provide for at least the return of premiums paid on the policy." In an unpublished decision construing South Carolina law, the Fourth Circuit has held "where it is already established that the policyholder committed suicide... [the insurer] need only establish that it has complied with the above two restrictions" to avoid ...


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