United States District Court, District of Columbia
G. Sullivan United States District Judge
Maria Perisic (“Ms. Perisic”), proceeding pro
se, filed this action in the Superior Court of the
District of Columbia (“Superior Court”) against
four officials of the World Bank Group (“World Bank
Defendants”) and Cigna (together with the World Bank
Defendants, “Defendants”). The World Bank
terminated Ms. Perisic because her position became redundant.
She later challenged her termination through an internal
review process. The World Bank Administrative Tribunal
(“Tribunal”) upheld the redundancy decision, but
the Tribunal ordered the World Bank to pay Ms. Perisic four
months' salary and attorney's fees due to a
procedural flaw. Dissatisfied, Ms. Perisic asserts various
claims against the World Bank Defendants, alleging wrongful
termination, discrimination, theft of intellectual property,
fraudulent misconduct, and mismanagement of insurance,
pension, workers' compensation, and disability benefits.
with the consent of the World Bank Defendants, removed the
case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331,
1441, and 1446 based on Ms. Perisic's claims that the
Defendants mishandled the World Bank Group's medical
insurance plan, denied her benefits under that plan, and
failed to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§
1001 et seq. Defendants separately move to dismiss
the Complaint, and Ms. Perisic moves to remand this case to
the Superior Court. Upon careful consideration of the
parties' submissions, the applicable law, and the entire
record herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART and
DENIES IN PART the World Bank
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, GRANTS IN
PART and DENIES IN PART Cigna's
Motion to Dismiss, DENIES Ms. Perisic's
Motion to Remand, and DISMISSES WITHOUT
PREJUDICE this action.
following facts-drawn from the Complaint and documents
incorporated by reference therein-are assumed to be true.
See Banneker Ventures, LLC v. Graham, 798 F.3d 1119,
1129 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Between 1994 and 2014, Ms. Perisic
worked for the World Bank and the International Finance
Corporation (“IFC”), a member of the World Bank
Group. See Compl., ECF No. 1-1 at 3
¶ 4; see also World Bank Defs.'
Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 7 at 5. After completing the World
Bank's Young Professional Program, Ms. Perisic began
working for the IFC in 1995. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 at 3 ¶
4, 6 ¶ 9. Ten years later, she moved to the World Bank,
id. at 3 ¶ 4, where she earned promotions,
id. at 7 ¶ 11. In November 1995, Ms. Perisic
went on leave after suffering a stroke, and she returned to
work in March 1996. Id. at 6 ¶ 9. After her
return, she served in different positions and departments,
ending in the South Asia Region's Agriculture Unit.
See id. at 7 ¶ 11.
moving to the Agriculture Unit, Ms. Perisic claims that one
of her managers was “trying to push [her] out of his
unit for reasons which were never explained[.]”
Id. at 7 ¶ 10. But she acknowledges “the
fact that [she] was aware that [her] job capabilities were
not as good as they previously were.” Id.
According to Ms. Perisic, her manager and the human resources
officer “tried to push [her] out of [the] [Agriculture]
[U]nit” in 2013. Id. at 7 ¶ 12. She
alleges that her manager refused to give her work and blocked
her efforts to generate work. Id. at 8 ¶ 12
n.8. As a result, Ms. Perisic experienced stress, dizziness,
and weakness in her legs. Id. at 8 ¶ 12. She
eventually applied for short-term disability after missing
twenty-one days of work due to an illness. Id. at 8
¶¶ 12, 12 n.9. At some point, Ms. Perisic attended
a performance evaluation meeting with her manager, and the
manager told her that her position had become redundant.
Id. at 8 ¶ 12.
August 28, 2013, Ms. Perisic received a Notice of Redundancy.
Id. at 8 ¶ 13. It was dated August 16, 2013 and
signed by Philippe Le Houérou, the World Bank's
Regional Vice President for South Asia. Id. The
Notice states, in relevant part, that “this confirms
your conversation with [the manager and the human resources
officer] in which you were informed that . . . I have
determined that your employment has become redundant with
effect September 1, 2013” and “[s]hould the job
search efforts prove unsuccessful, on March 1, 2014 your
employment with the [World] Bank will be terminated . . .
.” Id. at 8-9 ¶ 13. The Notice also
states that “[u]pon termination, you will be entitled
to severance payments . . . and other benefits for which you
are eligible.” Id. at 9 ¶ 13. On February
28, 2014, the World Bank terminated her employment.
Id. at 3 ¶ 4, 2 ¶ 2 n.2. Thereafter, Ms.
Perisic retained an attorney and submitted a request for
internal review. Id. at 9 ¶ 14. Her attorney
later filed an application on her behalf to the Tribunal in
2015. See Id. The year-long process ended with the
Tribunal's decision. Id. at 9 ¶ 14 n.11;
see also Ex. A, World Bank Defs.' Mot. to
Dismiss, ECF No. 7 at 22-59 [hereinafter
2016, the Tribunal determined that the World Bank properly
classified Ms. Perisic's position as redundant because
there was a decline in her work program, resulting in
underemployment. Tribunal Decision, ECF No. 7 at 44 ¶
86, 45 ¶ 89. The Tribunal concluded that she failed to
present a prima facie case for age and disability
discrimination because the redundancy decision predated her
short-term disability leave. Id. at 48 ¶¶
99-100. The Tribunal also concluded that Ms. Perisic had
received advance notice of the need to find alternative
employment, but the World Bank had failed to provide her with
a written explanation of the rationale for the redundancy
decision and a copy of the redundancy notice with the
specific sub-section of the Bank's applicable staff
rules. Id. at 49-50 ¶¶ 104-07. Finding
that the “procedural flaw entitle[d] [her] to some
compensation, ” id. at 50 ¶ 107, the
Tribunal ordered the World Bank to pay Ms. Perisic four
months' salary and her attorney's fees in the amount
of $20, 000. Id. at 59; see also Compl.,
ECF No. 1-1 at 9 ¶ 14 (alleging that the World Bank
misstated that Ms. Perisic received $171, 387).
Perisic characterized that outcome as a “partial
victory” in 2016. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 at 27 ¶ 61.
She later reported to the World Bank that documentation
concerning the redundancy decision contained a fraudulent
signature, and the World Bank conducted an internal review,
determining that her concerns were unfounded because the
signature was authentic. Id. at 27-28 ¶ 63.
Satisfied with that review, Ms. Perisic became unsatisfied in
December 2016 with her health insurance, pension payments, as
well as claims for workers' compensation and disability
benefits. Id. at 28 ¶ 65. She receives pension
payments from the World Bank and participates in its
“Retiree Medical Insurance Plan.” Id. at
2 ¶ 2 n.3. She also received a severance payment from
the World Bank. Id. at 27 ¶ 62.
January 1, 2017, Cigna and Eye Med replaced Aetna as the
administrators of the World Bank's dental and vision
insurance plans for employees and retirees. Compl., ECF No.
1-1 at 28-29 ¶¶ 67-68; see also Pl.'s
Ex. 1, ECF No. 19-1 at 2. According to Ms. Perisic,
“[t]he [World] Bank did not have [her] consent to
enroll [her] in the Cigna dental plan[, ]” and she had
“no possibility to get out of the dental plan” so
she “stay[ed] in the medical plan.” Pl.'s
Reply & Opp'n (“Pl.'s Opp'n”),
ECF No. 15 at 13 n.12. On April 6, 2017, a periodontist-an
out-of-network provider-performed dental work on Ms. Perisic,
and Cigna denied her claim for that work. Compl., ECF No. 1-1
at 32-33 ¶¶ 74-75. After her appeal, Cigna upheld
its decision in September 2017. Id. at 33 ¶ 74.
Ms. Perisic continued to have “several conversations
with Cigna customer service representatives, ” and she
communicated with representatives in Cigna's corporate
headquarters and legal department via telephone and mail
through May 2, 2018. Id. at 36 ¶ 81. Shortly
thereafter, litigation ensued.
Ms. Perisic's Allegations
26, 2018, Ms. Perisic filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court
against the four World Bank Defendants-Dr. Jim Yong Kim,
Philippe Le Houérou (“Mr.
Houérou”), Snezana Stoiljkovic (“Ms.
Stoiljkovic”), and Frank Heemskerk (“Mr.
Heemskerk”)-and Cigna. See generally Compl.,
ECF No. 1-1 at 1.Seeking a judgment against Defendants in
the sum of $10 million, id. at 37, Ms. Perisic
asserts a laundry list of allegations, and the precise
allegations are not clear from the Complaint. She alleges
that Dr. Kim dismissed her. Id. at 2 ¶ 2. She
claims that his decision was “unethical” and
“not in the interest of efficient
administration.” Id. Ms. Perisic challenges
“the consequent theft of [her] ‘intellectual
property' and deprivation of the right to a fair
‘trial', fraudulent misconduct, and discrimination
done by staff of the World Bank and the [IFC, ]” which
have “seriously damaged the financial situation and the
well-being of [her] family and [herself].” Id.
at 2-3 ¶ 2. Ms. Perisic also alleges that she applied
for positions where the hiring manager was Ms. Stoiljkovic,
id. at 15 ¶ 22 n.16, and that she met with Mr.
Heemskerk to discuss her pending termination, id. at
21 ¶ 40. For these allegations, the Complaint fails to
cite or reference specific statutes or regulations.
to the allegations concerning her claimed benefits, Ms.
Perisic appears to assert that the World Bank Defendants and
Cigna: (1) failed to adequately manage her enrollment in the
World Bank's dental retiree medical insurance plan; (2)
mismanaged her health insurance and pension payments; and (3)
“[mis]handle[d] the group health plan's compliance
with ERISA[.]” Id. at 3 ¶ 3.
Specifically, she alleges that Defendants did not include her
stroke in 1995 in their records that resulted in her vision
disability, and that Cigna declined to cover her blood work
in the amount of $575 as part of her implant surgery in 2017.
Id. According to Ms. Perisic, the dental plan is
part of the World Bank Group's Retiree Medical Insurance
Plan, which is “supposed to be governed by ERISA, [but
it] is not.” Id. at 3 ¶ 3 n.4; see
also Id. at 34 ¶ 77 (alleging that “I
understand that the Bank is required to respect
ERISA”). Indeed, Ms. Perisic alleges that she has a
“right to bring legal action under ERISA, ”
id. at 34 ¶ 77, based on her own research and
her conversations with representatives from Cigna and the
United States Department of Labor, see id.
August 30, 2018, Cigna timely removed the action from the
Superior Court to this Court on the basis of Ms.
Perisic's claims for benefits under the World Bank's
group insurance plan allegedly governed under ERISA.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b); see also
Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1 at 2 ¶ 3 (stating that the
notice was filed within thirty days of receipt of the
Complaint). Cigna did not concede that the World Bank's
retiree dental plan is subject to ERISA. Notice of Removal,
ECF No. 1 at 2 n.3. And Cigna noted that Ms. Perisic used the
trade name, which “is not a juridical entity capable of
being sued.” Id. at 2 n.1. The World Bank
Defendants consented to the removal. Ex. 5, World Bank
Defs.' Consent to Removal, ECF No. 1-5 at 1. The World
Bank did not waive its immunities from process and suit
derived from the International Organizations Immunity Act
(“IOIA”), 22 U.S.C. § 288 et seq.
move separately to dismiss Ms. Perisic's Complaint in its
entirety. The World Bank Defendants move to dismiss the
wrongful termination and employment-related claims for lack
of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), arguing
that the World Bank Defendants are immune from suit. World
Bank Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 7 at 1, 10-14. In
the alternative, the World Bank Defendants move to dismiss
the employment discrimination and dental and vision benefits
claims in the Complaint for failure to state a claim under
Rule 12(b)(6). Id. at 1, 14-17. The World Bank
Defendants contend that the group benefits plan is a
“governmental plan” exempt from ERISA.
Id. at 17. Cigna moves to dismiss on two primary
grounds: (1) dismissal is warranted under Rule 12(b)(5) for
insufficient service of process; and (2) Ms. Perisic fails to
state a plausible claim for relief as to Cigna's
administration of her dental benefits pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6). Def.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of
Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mem.”),
ECF No. 8-1 at 1-3.
Perisic seeks to remand this case to the Superior Court
because “[her] case is about theft, discrimination, and
mismanagement of [her] health insurance . . . by
[D]efendants” and her case “is not about
ERISA.” Pl.'s Mot. to Remand, ECF No. 9 at 1
(styled as “Motion”). Ms. Perisic argues that the
lawyers representing Defendants have engaged in an
“orchestrated effort to intimidate [her].”
Id. at 6. She urges this Court to order “the
attorneys to stop their malicious and distressful behavior[,
]” and “[D]efendants to stop their misconduct and
wrongdoing.” Id. at 7. She seeks $6.5 million
in “intangible damages” and $6.5 million in
punitive damages. Id. Defendants oppose her motion.
See Def.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 11 at 1-3; see
also World Bank Def.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 13 at 1-5.
September 5, 2019, the Court ordered supplemental briefing on
the issue of whether the Court has subject-matter
jurisdiction if the World Bank's plan is a
“governmental plan” exempt from ERISA.
See Min. Order of Sept. 5, 2019. The Court, sua
sponte, stayed this action pending the resolution of the
jurisdictional issue. Id. The supplemental briefing
is now complete, and the motions are ripe for the Court's
Motion to Remand
action may be removed from state court to a federal district
court only if the federal district court has original
subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. 28 U.S.C. §
1441(a). The Superior Court is considered a state court for
removal purposes. Id. § 1451(a). “When it
appears that a district court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over a case that has been removed from a state
court, the district court must remand the case . . ., and the
court's order remanding the case to the state court
whence it came ‘is not reviewable on appeal or
otherwise.'” Republic of Venezuela v. Philip
Morris Inc., 287 F.3d 192, 196 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (citing
28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); quoting id. §
1447(d)). “Because of the significant federalism
concerns involved, this Court strictly construes the scope of
its removal jurisdiction.” Downey v. Ambassador
Dev., LLC, 568 F.Supp.2d 28, 30 (D.D.C. 2008).
“The party seeking removal of an action bears the
burden of proving that jurisdiction exists in federal
bases for subject matter jurisdiction in a federal district
court are federal question jurisdiction . . . and diversity
jurisdiction . . . .” Bush v. Butler, 521
F.Supp.2d 63, 70 (D.D.C. 2007). For federal question
jurisdiction, a defendant may seek removal on the grounds
that the case “aris[es] under the Constitution, laws,
or treaties of the United States.” Apton v.
Volkswagen Grp. of Am., Inc., 233 F.Supp.3d 4, 11
(D.D.C. 2017) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1331). “The
presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is
governed by the ‘well-pleaded complaint rule,'
which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a
federal question is presented on the face of the
complaint.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482
U.S. 386, 392 (1987). “[I]t is now settled law that a
case may not be removed to federal court on the
basis of a federal defense, including the defense of
pre-emption, even if the defense is anticipated in the
plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties concede
that the federal defense is the only question truly at
issue.” Id. at 393.
challenge to subject matter jurisdiction may be raised on a
motion to remand by the parties.” Nat'l
Consumers League v. Bimbo Bakeries USA, 46 F.Supp.3d 64,
69 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)). The Court
must remand the case to the state court on the basis of a
defect in the removal procedures. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
Remand is mandatory “[i]f at any ...