United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on Plaintiff Kathleen
Hendrix's “Motion To Remand” (doc. 11) and
“Motion for Oral Argument” (doc. 23). The court
DENIES Ms. Hendrix's motion for oral
argument (doc. 23). The court GRANTS
UnitedHealth Group's motion for leave to file a sur-reply
(doc. 22; doc. 22-1). The court has considered
UnitedHealth's sur-reply, attached to its motion for
leave to file a sur-reply, in deciding to remand this case.
court GRANTS Ms. Hendrix's motion for
remand (doc. 11). The court does not address
UnitedHealth's motion to dismiss (doc. 17) because it
lacks jurisdiction to do so.
Kathleen Hendrix is the administrator of Kenneth
Hendrix's estate. Mr. Hendrix died from complications
from blunt force trauma suffered in a car accident.
are Oakwood Ridge Independent Living; State Farm Mutual
Automobile Insurance Company; Teresa Huff Russell; Elizabeth
Haney as administrator of Nicholas Huff's estate; and
UnitedHealth. Ms. Hendrix's allegations relate to
the car accident that began the chain of events resulting in
Mr. Hendrix's death. For example, Ms. Hendrix brings suit
against the estate of Nicholas Huff, who Ms. Hendrix alleges
caused the accident. Ms. Hendrix alleges that Mr. Huff was
intoxicated at the time he crossed the center-lane on an
undivided highway, hitting Mr. Hendrix's car head-on.
claim against UnitedHealth, which administered Mr.
Hendrix's ERISA-regulated healthcare plan, arises out of
UnitedHealth's conduct in restricting the treatment that
Mr. Hendrix could receive after the car accident.
Specifically, in Count 5 of her complaint, Ms. Hendrix
asserts a claim under the Alabama Wrongful Death Act and
seeks to impose punitive damages on UnitedHealth as
punishment for allegedly wrongful conduct causing Mr.
Hendrix was hospitalized the day of the accident, October 3,
2015. A week later, on October 10, Mr. Hendrix's treating
physicians approved his release to an in-patient facility
where he could continue treatment and rehabilitation.
However, UnitedHealth denied that transfer or declined to pay
for it. The hospital then discharged Mr. Hendrix to home
care. Approximately 10 days later, Mr. Hendrix died at home
after suffering a pulmonary thromboembolism brought on by
complications from the car accident.
reasons stated below, the court lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction to hear this lawsuit.
district court has “original jurisdiction of all civil
actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of
the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. And a
defendant may remove to federal court any civil action filed
in state court in which the federal court would have original
jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). However, the court
must remand to the state court any improvidently removed case
or one without the necessary jurisdiction. This case is one
of those cases.
case, the parties are non-diverse and Ms. Hendrix's
claims-on their face- present no federal question.
UnitedHealth argues that the court must convert Ms.
Hendrix's state-law wrongful-death claim into a federal
ERISA claim, therefore invoking federal-question
the plaintiff is the master of her claim, and by pleading
state law claims exclusively she may avoid federal-question
jurisdiction. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S.
386, 392 (1987). This case, however, is unusual. Ms. Hendrix
brings a state-law claim against her husband's
ERISA-regulated plan administrator, and state-law claims that
“relate to” ERISA-covered benefit plans are
“completely” preempted. Connecticut State
Dental Ass'n v. Anthem Health Plans, Inc., 591 F.3d
1337, 1344 (11th Cir. 2009). “Complete”
preemption is an exception to the usual rule that the
plaintiff is master of her claim. Id. When a
state-law claim is “completely preempted, ” the
court can convert the state-law claim into a federal claim,
and the court has federal-question jurisdiction to hear the
case. Blab T.V. of Mobile, Inc. v. Comcast Cable
Communications, Inc., 182 F.3d 851, 854 (11th Cir.
1999). Because this court lacks diversity jurisdiction and
Ms. Hendrix's claims as pleaded implicate only state law,
this court has jurisdiction to hear this case only if Ms.
Hendrix's Alabama wrongful-death claim is completely
preempted by ERISA.
defendant must satisfy a two-part test to establish that a
claim is completely preempted by ERISA: (1) the plaintiff had
standing and could have brought her claim under 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(a), which sets out the circumstances in which a
plaintiff can recover plan benefits, and (2) no
other independent legal duty supports the plaintiff's
claim. See Anthem Health, 591 F.3d at 1345 (citing
Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200 (2004)).
That test is conjunctive; ERISA does not completely preempt a
claim unless the defendant satisfies both
conditions. Borrero v. United Healthcare of New York,
Inc., 610 F.3d 1296, 1304 (11th Cir. 2010). So, if
UnitedHealth fails to establish either part of the Anthem
Health/Davila test, then the court must remand
the case because it will lack subject-matter jurisdiction.
But if UnitedHealth can establish both parts of the test,
then the court must convert-or give Ms. Hendrix the