United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. HAROLD ALBRITTON, Senior District Judge.
This cause is before the court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's State Law Claims, Claims for Punitive and Extracontractual Damages, and to Strike Demand for Jury Trial Pursuant to ERISA (Doc. #2). Also before the court are the Plaintiff's Response (Doc. #5) and the Defendant's Reply thereto (Doc. #6). The Defendant asks the court to dismiss the state law claims in this case and require the Plaintiff to replead them as claims pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), on the ground that the state claims are preempted by ERISA. For the reasons to be discussed, the Motion to Dismiss and related motions are due to be GRANTED.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court accepts the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984), and construes the complaint in the plaintiff's favor, Duke v. Cleland, 5 F.3d 1399, 1402 (11th Cir. 1993). In analyzing the sufficiency of pleading, the court is guided by a two-prong approach: one, the court is not bound to accept conclusory statements of the elements of a cause of action and, two, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to entitlement to relief. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint need not contain "detailed factual allegations, " but instead the complaint must contain "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. The factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555.
The Plaintiff is employed by Kumi Manufacturing Alabama, LLC ("Kumi"). As a full-time hourly employee, the Plaintiff participated in a short term disability policy issued by the Defendant to Kumi. She also signed up for a separate long term disability policy issued to Kumi, specifically Policy No. 000400095046. The Plaintiff suffers from "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and right knee pain." (Doc. #1-3 at 2 ¶ 4.) She filed claims with Defendant under both her short term and long term disability policies. After a twenty-four month "Own Occupation Period, " the Defendant denied further benefits to which Plaintiff believed she was entitled. She exhausted her appeals with the Defendant by March 31, 2014.
On March 17, 2015, the Plaintiff filed a three-count complaint in the Circuit Court of Chilton County, Alabama (Doc. #1-3). The complaint alleges claims against the Defendant for breach of contract, misrepresentation and fraud, and bad faith. All three counts relate to the Defendant's denial of benefits under the long term disability policy.
The Defendant removed the case to federal court on April 23, 2015, and on the same day filed the instant motion, asking the court to dismiss the Plaintiff's state law claims and claims for extracontractual damages, and to strike the Plaintiff's jury demand.
There are two types of ERISA-related preemption: 1) complete preemption, which is jurisdictional; and 2) conflict or defensive preemption, which is an affirmative defense to preempted state law claims. Conn. State Dental Ass'n v. Anthem Health Plans, Inc., 591 F.3d 1337, 1343-44 (11th Cir. 2009). Both types of preemption are at issue in this case, and the court will discuss each in turn.
a. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Although a motion to remand has not been filed in this case, the court is required to satisfy itself that it may exercise proper jurisdiction over the claims in the case. See, e.g., Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 410 (11th Cir. 1999) ("[A] federal court is obligated to inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte whenever it may be lacking."). Because the court finds it has proper federal question jurisdiction due to complete preemption under ERISA, it will not discuss diversity jurisdiction as an alternative basis for jurisdiction.
As stated above, complete preemption under ERISA is jurisdictional. "Complete preemption is a narrow exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule and exists where the preemptive force of a federal statute is so extraordinary that it converts an ordinary state law claim into a statutory federal claim." Anthem, 591 F.3d at 1343. Accordingly, if there is complete preemption in this case, then the court has federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because the state law claims become statutory federal claims. "Complete preemption derives from ERISA's civil enforcement provision, § 502(a)." Id. at 1344. As a result, "causes of ...