Doctor Loses Benefit Claims Again, May Face Sanctions

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By Carmen Castro-Pagan

Aug. 11 — A doctor who has filed over 20 ERISA cases in the past year against multiple companies lost her latest bid to recover unpaid medical benefits against Areva Inc. and may face sanctions from a federal court in Virginia ( Griffin v. Areva, Inc. , 2016 BL 258969, W.D. Va., No. 6:16-cv-00029, 8/10/16 ).

Judge Norman K. Moon granted Aug. 10 Areva's motion to dismiss the doctor's lawsuit, holding that her claims were precluded because another federal court in Georgia had already rendered a final judgment on the matter. The doctor has a demonstrated history of filing numerous, duplicative claims in other courts and against similarly-situated defendants, Moon said. However, Moon declined to issue a pre-filing injunction against the doctor until she explains why she shouldn't be sanctioned for bad faith and baseless litigation.

According to court documents, W.A. Griffin, a Georgia dermatologist, has filed more than 20 similar Employee Retirement Income Security Act lawsuits to recover benefits against major companies. Those companies include Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., Navistar Inc., General Electric Co., Aetna Health Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and SunTrust Bank Inc.

Precluded Claims

In his ruling, Moon said the complaint in Griffin's prior case against Areva alleged claims identical to those she alleged in this lawsuit. In the prior case, the Northern District of Georgia dismissed Griffin's claims because the beneficiary's insurance policy prohibited the assignment of benefits to physicians in Griffin's position.

Because the prior case ended with a final judgment on the merits, Griffin's claims were precluded, the court said.

Areva, a health insurance company based in Virginia, also requested that the court issue a pre-filing injunction against Griffin. It argued that Griffin's “repetitive and unmeritorius lawsuits” were a burden on federal courts and that her repeated filing served no purpose but to harass defendants.

The court noted that the cases filed by Griffin displayed the kind of “vexatious, wasteful, or duplicative behavior courts have found sufficient to support a pre-filing injunction.” However, the court noted that Griffin's case was the first she filed in the Western District of Virginia and was only the second case against Areva.

Because Griffin hadn't been sanctioned in a Virginia jurisdiction, the court said it was in no position to conclude that a less drastic alternative sanction would fail to deter future baseless litigation.

“The court will consider whether Griffin should be ordered to pay Areva's attorneys' fees as a sanction for its having to defend against this baseless litigation,” the court concluded.

Griffin represented herself, pro se. Troutman Sanders LLP represented Areva.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carmen Castro-Pagan in Washington at ccastro-pagan@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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