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Greenberg v. Ameriprise Financial, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 17, 2017





         In this “conspiracy” action, insurance company defendant and financial services company defendant move to dismiss. For the reasons below, the motion is Granted.


         Pro se plaintiff Rick Greenberg brought this claim for relief against defendants RiverSource Life Insurance Company, Ameriprise Financial, Inc., Medical Consultants Network, and Howard Belfer, M.D. Medical Consultants Network and Dr. Belfer have not been served as of date of this order. Ameriprise is RiverSource's parent company. RiverSource, an insurance company, entered into a written contract with Greenberg in 1996 to provide disability coverage (Dkt. No. 29). Greenberg received disability benefits from RiverSource under this contract for five years by claiming total disability arising from his bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (Dkt. No. 31 at 95). Dr. Belfer is the physician who examined Greenberg to determine if he was still eligible for disability benefits under RiverSource's coverage policy at some point before his benefits stopped. The complaint remains silent on how Medical Consultants Network became involved in Greenberg's claim for relief (Dkt. No. 29).

Greenberg's disability benefits were terminated in October 2007 (Dkt. No. 31 at 95). He filed suit in November 2011 in state court against RiverSource and Dr. Belfer for fraud and breach of contract (Dkt. No. 31 at 6-10).[*] RiverSource and Dr. Belfer removed the action to this district based on diversity (id. at 12). The action came to the undersigned (ibid.). RiverSource and Dr. Belfer then filed a joint motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Greenberg failed to allege sufficient facts (id. at 19-28). An order granted Dr. Belfer's and RiverSource's motion to dismiss as to all claims against Dr. Belfer and claims for fraud against RiverSource, but denied it as to Greenberg's claim for breach of contract against RiverSource (id. at 78-82). RiverSource then filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that Greenberg's breach of contract claim was time-barred (id. at 84-89). An order granted the motion for summary judgment in favor of RiverSource and Dr. Belfer (id. at 95-100). Greenberg did not appeal.

         Greenberg filed this new suit in June 2016 in state court against RiverSource, Ameriprise, Medical Consultants Network, and Dr. Belfer for breach of contract (id. at 102-10). RiverSource and Ameriprise again removed to this district based on diversity (Dkt. No. 1). The action became related to the earlier action, thus coming to the undersigned judge (Dkt. No. 19). Ameriprise and RiverSource filed a motion to dismiss Greenberg's claim on the ground that res judicata precluded Greenberg's claim (Dkt. No. 15). Greenberg did not oppose, but instead requested leave to amend his complaint at his case management conference. An order granted Greenberg's request, permitting him to amend his complaint (Dkt. No. 27).

         Greenberg now alleges in his amended complaint that RiverSource, Ameriprise, and Dr. Belfer conspired to deny him disability benefits. Greenberg's amended complaint contains only bare bones allegations. Greenberg claims that he performed “all conditions, covenants, and promises required on his part to be performed in accordance with the terms and conditions” of RiverSource's coverage policy. In March 2007, RiverSource allegedly informed Greenberg that it would begin a process of evaluating the “any occupation” clause of the contract via an independent medical evaluation. The amended complaint does not describe this clause. To the extent discernable, the amended complaint alleges RiverSource then breached the contract by somehow wrongfully terminating his disability benefits (Dkt. No. 29).

         The amended complaint further alleges that Ameriprise interfered with RiverSource's operations and Greenberg's medical evaluation without explaining how. Greenberg also alleges RiverSource directly communicated with Dr. Belfer and influenced his medical evaluation of Greenberg. It is unclear from the complaint what RiverSource communicated to Dr. Belfer. Furthermore, Greenberg alleges his “legitimate request” for copies of his medical reports and whole claims file were denied, “creating an air of conspiracy” (ibid.). Oddly, Greenberg believes the aforementioned allegations will be substantiated by evidence he secured during discovery in his first action against RiverSource (Dkt. No. 29, 31 at 95-100).

         Defendants RiverSource and Ameriprise move to dismiss this action. This order follows full briefing and oral argument.


         Ameriprise and RiverSource contend that res judicata bars Greenberg's conspiracy claim because Greenberg's underlying breach of contract claim in this suit is identical to his claims against RiverSource and Dr. Belfer in his first suit. This order agrees. Res judicata bars litigation in subsequent actions of any claims that were raised or could have been raised in the prior action against parties or their privies. Stewart v. U.S. Bancorp, 297 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 2002). “For res judicata to apply, there must be: (1) an identity of claims, (2) a final judgment on the merits, and (3) identity or privity between the parties.” Tahoe-Sierra Preservation, Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Reg'l Planning Agency, 322 F.3d 1064, 1077 (9th Cir. 2003).

         1. Identity of Claims.

         An identity of claims exists when (1) the rights or interests in the prior judgment would be destroyed or impaired by prosecution of the second action, (2) the two suits present substantially the same evidence, (3) the two suits involve infringement of the same right, and (4) the two suits arise out of the same transactional nucleus of facts. The most important criterion in determining an identity of claims is whether the claim brought in the subsequent action could have ...

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