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February 2019

Philadelphia Partner Sara Anderson Frey Scores Trio of Successful Results

Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani Philadelphia partner Sara Anderson Frey recently obtained three favorable results. In the first, Frey obtained summary judgment on behalf of a life insurance company in a matter pending in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. The plaintiff sought life insurance benefits following the death of his wife, who tragically committed suicide a year after taking out two life insurance policies. The insurer denied benefits under the policies’ suicide exclusions, which precluded coverage where an insured commits suicide, whether “sane or insane,” within two years of the policies’ issuance.         

The plaintiff filed suit, arguing that the suicide exclusions were not applicable. In support of this argument, the plaintiff retained a well-known Harvard psychiatrist who opined that the decedent’s death was not the result of a suicide, but, rather, the result of a medically induced irresistible impulse due to anti-depressants she was taking at the time she hung herself.  Frey filed a motion for summary judgment, citing the policies’ “sane or insane” language as well as Third Circuit precedent finding such exclusions to be unambiguous and enforceable. The district court rejected the plaintiff’s “irresistible impulse” theory and granted the motion for summary judgment, dismissing all claims against the insurer with prejudice.

In the second matter, Frey obtained summary judgment on behalf of a major health care insurance company in a unique matter arising out of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The plaintiff, who was insured by the defendant under a health insurance policy issued through her employer, filed suit seeking equitable relief under ERISA. The matter had been twice dismissed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa and twice remanded by the Eighth Circuit when Frey became involved in the litigation. The only issue on remand at that time was whether restitution was “appropriate equitable relief” under ERISA.  Nonetheless, the magistrate judge permitted the plaintiff to file an amended pleading upon remand, seeking to re-litigate claims which had been previously dismissed by substituting new plaintiffs. 

Frey filed objections to the magistrate’s ruling in addition to seeking summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claim for premium benefits. The district judge sustained Frey’s objections, holding the plaintiff could not resurrect her dismissed claims. The court also granted summary judgment on the claim for premiums, thereby dismissing all claims against the insurer with prejudice.

Finally, the Commonwealth Court of Appeals recently affirmed the grant of summary judgment Frey obtained on behalf of an airport authority. The plaintiff, who worked for an airline at the airport, slipped and fell on ice on the ramp. Frey filed a motion for summary judgment on grounds that the airport authority was immune from liability under Pennsylvania’s Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, or alternatively, was not liable under Pennsylvania’s hills and ridges doctrine. The trial court granted the motion on both grounds and the plaintiff appealed.  Frey argued the matter before the Commonwealth Court, urging the appeals court to affirm the trial court’s opinion.  Just two months after argument, the Commonwealth Court issued its opinion, affirming the trial court on all grounds.

Sara Anderson Frey