ROSS RUNFOLA PLAINTIFF RESPONDENT v. SIEGEL KELLEHER KAHN HERBERT SIEGEL AND DENNIS KAHN DEFENDANTS APPELLANTS

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Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, New York.

ROSS T. RUNFOLA, PLAINTIFF–RESPONDENT, v. SIEGEL, KELLEHER & KAHN, HERBERT M. SIEGEL, AND DENNIS A. KAHN, DEFENDANTS–APPELLANTS.

CA 11–01106

Decided: November 18, 2011

PRESENT:  PERADOTTO, J.P., CARNI, LINDLEY, AND SCONIERS, JJ. PHILLIPS LYTLE LLP, BUFFALO (CHRISTOPHER L. HAYES OF COUNSEL), FOR DEFENDANTS–APPELLANTS. CHIACCHIA & FLEMING, LLP, HAMBURG (ANDREW P. FLEMING OF COUNSEL), FOR PLAINTIFF–RESPONDENT.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

It is hereby ORDERED that the order insofar as appealed from is unanimously reversed on the law without costs, defendants' motion is granted in its entirety and the complaint is dismissed.

Memorandum:  Plaintiff, a former partner in defendant Siegel, Kelleher & Kahn (SKK), commenced this action against that law firm and defendants Herbert M. Siegel and Dennis A. Kahn alleging, inter alia, breach of contract, fraud, and promissory estoppel.   In 1992, Siegel and Kahn, the law firm's managing partners, purchased a group long-term disability insurance policy for the benefit of the firm's partners.   An internal letter circulated in the law firm announced the existence of the disability policy and outlined the coverage provisions.   Over the next several years, plaintiff suffered several physical and medical ailments and, although he continued to work, his ability to practice law was impaired.   In December 1997, the group disability policy lapsed based on the nonpayment of premiums.   According to plaintiff, he was not notified when the policy was allowed to lapse, nor did he learn that the policy had been cancelled until a few years thereafter, when he was inquiring about the coverage.   Plaintiff continued working at SKK until May 2001 and thereafter commenced this action.

Supreme Court properly granted those parts of defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing the first through third causes of action, but should have granted the motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint in its entirety.   The causes of action left intact by the court are preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ( [ERISA] 29 USC § 1001 et seq.).   Specifically, ERISA “shall supersede any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan” covered by ERISA (29 USC § 1144[a] ).   In accordance with that expansive preemption provision (see e.g. California Div. of Labor Stds. Enforcement v Dillingham Constr., N.A., Inc., 519 U.S. 316, 324;  Ingersoll–Rand Co. v. McClendon, 498 U.S. 133, 138;  Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S. 85, 98;  see also Matter of Council of City of N.Y. v Bloomberg, 6 NY3d 380, 394), ERISA provides that “[a] law ‘relates to’ an employee benefit plan ․ if it has a connection with or reference to such a plan” (Shaw, 463 U.S. at 96–97).   ERISA also imposes, inter alia, notice and disclosure requirements in relation to employee benefit plans (see 29 USC §§ 1021–1024;  see also Peralta v. Hispanic Business, Inc., 419 F3d 1064, 1070;  see generally Veilleux v. Atochem N. Am., Inc., 929 F.2d 74, 75–76).   Thus, ERISA mandates dismissal of plaintiff's remaining causes of action.   In light of our determination, we do not reach defendants' remaining contentions.

Patricia L. Morgan

Clerk of the Court