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Brand v. Church

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division

April 2, 2019

JOE CHURCH, et al., Defendants.


          L. Scott Coogler, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Joe Church (“Church”) and Walker Rehabilitation Center's (“Walker Rehabilitation”) Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative Recharacterize Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. 3.) Plaintiff Delilah Brand (“Brand”) originally filed this suit in state court alleging claims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, bad faith, negligent misrepresentation, false representation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud in the inducement, failure to warn, deceit, and conversion. Defendants Church and Walker Rehabilitation removed the suit to this Court, arguing that Brand's claims are completely preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461, (“ERISA”). In response, Brand filed an Objection to Defendants' Notice of Removal (doc. 4), which this Court construes as a motion to remand. For the reasons stated below, Church and Walker Rehabilitation's Motion to Dismiss (doc. 3) is due to be GRANTED in PART and DENIED in PART, and Brand's Motion to Remand (doc. 4) is due to be DENIED.

         I. Background [1]

         Brand is a former employee of Walker Rehabilitation, which is owned and operated by Church. As an employee, Brand directed that payroll deductions from her paycheck be used to pay for Alliance Medical Supplement Insurance (“Alliance Insurance”) premiums. On June 26, 2018, Brand started chemotherapy. To pay for these treatments, Brand presented her medical provider with her Alliance Insurance. However, Brand's medical provider notified her that the Alliance Insurance was invalid. According to Brand, her employers were not using her withheld wages to pay her insurance premiums, but instead, were converting funds deducted from her paychecks for their own purposes. Brand also alleges that Defendant Alliance Medical Supplement Insurance Company (“Alliance”) acted in bad faith when it refused to pay her claim for the chemotherapy treatments and that it failed to warn her that the insurance premiums were not being paid.

         II. Standard of review

         Before reaching the motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must first decide whether it has subject matter jurisdiction over Brand's state law claims. Only if the Court finds jurisdiction will it address the motion to dismiss. To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must generally satisfy the pleading requirements in Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. Rule 8 requires a pleading to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Instead, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 678 (internal quotations omitted). Iqbal establishes a two-step process for evaluating a complaint. First, the Court must “begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 679. Second, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. Factual allegations in a complaint need not be detailed, but they “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         A party need not specifically plead each element in his or her cause of action, but the pleading must contain “enough information regarding the material elements of a cause of action to support recovery under some viable legal theory.” Am. Fed'n Labor & Cong. of Indus. Orgs. v. City of Miami, Fla., 637 F.3d 1178, 1186 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations omitted). Ultimately, the Court must be able to draw a reasonable inference from the facts that the other party is liable. Reese v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams, LLP, 678 F.3d 1211, 1215 (11th Cir. 2012).

         III. Discussion

         A. Federal Jurisdiction and Complete Preemption

         In determining whether remand is appropriate, the Court will ask whether removal was proper in the first place. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), defendants may remove a civil action if the action could have originally been filed in federal court. See Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). If the action could not have originally been brought in federal court, it must be remanded to the state court in which it was filed. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). “Any doubts about the propriety of federal jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state court.” Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v. Bloomberg, 552 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir. 2008).

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). One such authorization of power is original jurisdiction over cases that “aris[e] under” federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, a case arises under federal law only if the presence of a federal question is clear from the face of the plaintiff's complaint. Caterpillar Inc., 482 U.S. at 392. In other words, the mere existence of an anticipated federal defense is insufficient to support federal question jurisdiction. See Id. at 393.

         Because Brand asserts only state law claims, the face of her complaint does not present a federal question. Complete preemption, however, 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.” Conn. State Dental Ass'n v. Anthem Health Plans, Inc., 591 F.3d 1337, 1343 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Caterpillar Inc., 482 U.S. at 393). ERISA's civil enforcement provision, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), [2] is one of the few federal statutes that completely preempts state law claims making those claims removable to federal court. See Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 209 (2004); Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 64-67 (1987). Defendants argue that this provision is what allowed them to remove Brand's claims to this Court.

         The Eleventh Circuit has adopted a two-part test to determine whether ERISA completely preempts a state law claim: “(1) whether the plaintiff could have brought [her] claim under § 502(a); and (2) whether no other legal duty supports the plaintiff's claim.” Conn. State, 591 F.3d at 1345 (citing Davila, ...

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