Court Refuses to Dismiss Complaint After Removal

The plaintiff filed a complaint in Georgia state court after Reliance Standard denied his long-term disability claim.  In addition to compensatory damages for breach of contract, the plaintiff sought damages for statutory bad faith.  Reliance Standard filed a notice to remove the case to federal court, arguing that the claim fell exclusively within the purview of ERISA.  Reliance Standard moved to dismiss, arguing that ERISA preempted the state-law claims.  The Georgia federal court denied the motion to dismiss, holding as follows:

ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) provides a federal cause of action for a plan participant or beneficiary to "recover benefits due to him," "enforce his rights," or "clarify his rights to future benefits" under the terms of the plan.  29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), ERISA § 502.  Although the substance of Plaintiff's asserted claim for benefits could have been brought as an ERISA cause of action under § 502, Plaintiff failed to cite ERISA in his state Court Complaint.  The well-pleaded complaint rule normally permits removal of cases from state court into federal court based on federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331 only when federal claims are explicitly raised in the plaintiff's complaint.  Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 481 U.S. 58, 62, 107 S. Ct. 1542, 95 L. Ed. 2d 55 (1987) (citations omitted). However, under the  "complete preemption" exception to this rule, federal jurisdiction is permitted when Congress has so completely preempted an area of law that any claim within it is brought under federal law, and thus is removable to federal court.

In Metropolitan Life, the Supreme Court found that the "complete preemption" exception to the well pleaded complaint rule applied in situations such as the one at bar.  The Court held ERISA plans may remove into federal court claims that were brought in state courts but that could have been brought under ERISA § 502(a) in federal court.  Accordingly, federal question jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim for denial of benefits is proper, despite Plaintiff's failure to assert a cause of action under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) in his Complaint.

The court concluded that the plaintiff's statutory bad faith claims were likewise preempted by ERISA.  The case is Green v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43319 (S.D. Ga. Jun. 3, 2008).

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