United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
L. LITKOVITZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on defendant Prudential Insurance
Company of America's motion to partially dismiss the
amended complaint and motion to strike request for
extracontractual/punitive damages and jury demand (Doc. 17),
defendant's supporting memorandum (Doc. 18), and
defendant's reply memorandum (Doc. 19). Plaintiff has not
filed a response in opposition to the motion.
originally filed this action alleging a wrongful denial of
accidental death benefits in state court. (Doc. 2). Defendant
removed the action to this Court on June 23, 2016. (Doc. 1).
Defendant asserted that plaintiffs claims, which were brought
exclusively under state law, were completely preempted by the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29
U.S.C., § 1001, et seq. The Court subsequently
granted plaintiff leave to amend the complaint to join the
Plan Administrator, Cintas Corporation (Cintas), as a
defendant to the action and to add an ERISA claim against
Prudential Insurance Company of America (Prudential) and
Cintas. (Doc. 14). The Amended Complaint was filed on
September 22, 2016. (Doc. 15).
Prudential moves to dismiss the state law claims raised in
the amended complaint under Fed. R. Civ, P. 12(b)(6) on the
ground those claims are preempted by ERISA. (Docs. 17, 18).
Prudential alleges that plaintiffs claim for
extracontractual/punitive damages and her jury demand must be
stricken because ERISA does not provide for such damages or
for a trial by jury. (Id.).
Motion to dismiss
deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court
must accept all factual allegations as true and make
reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.
Keys v. Humana, Inc., 684 F.3d 605, 608 (6th Cir.
2012) (citing Harbin-Bey v. Rutter, 420 F.3d 571,
575 (6th Cir. 2005)). Only "a short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief
is required. Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).
"[T]he statement need only give the defendant fair
notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests." Id. (quoting Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Although the plaintiff need not
plead specific facts, the "[f]actual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level" and to "state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570). A plaintiff must
"plead factual content that allows the court to draw
the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).
issue raised by Prudential's motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6) is whether plaintiff has pled state law claims that
are not preempted by ERISA. ERISA broadly preempts state law
claims insofar as they "relate to" any employee
benefit plan as defined under the statute. 29 U.S.C. §
1144(a); see also Smith v. Commonwealth General
Corp., 589 F.App'x 738, 744 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Mass., 471 U.S. 724,
733 (1985)). ERISA defines "employee benefit plan"
to include any "employee welfare benefit plan, "
which means any plan maintained by an employer to provide
certain benefits, including death benefits payable to a
beneficiary. 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1), (3). The phrase
"relate to" is construed broadly such that a state
law claim is preempted by ERISA if "it has connection
with or reference to that plan." Cromwell v.
Equicor-Equitable HCA Corp., 944 F.2d 1272, 1276 (6th
Cir. 1991) (citing Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 471
U.S. at 732-33); Shaw v. Delta Airlines, Inc., 463
U.S. 85 (1983)). A claim brought under state law is
completely preempted by ERISA if the claim seeks
'"to recover benefits due to [the plaintiff] under
the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms
of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits
under the terms of the plan, ' as provided in §
1132(a)(1)(B)." Lockett v. Marsh USA, Inc., 354
F.App'x 984, 988 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).
is not the label placed on a state law claim that determines
whether it is preempted, but whether in essence such a claim
is for the recovery of an ERISA plan benefit."
Peters v. Lincoln Elec. Co., 285 F.3d 456, 469 (6th
Cir. 2002) (citing Cromwell, 944 F.2d at 1275).
Regardless how a claim is labeled, it is a claim for the
recovery of ERISA benefits for preemption purposes if
"(1) the plaintiff complains about the denial of
benefits to which he is entitled 'only because of the
terms of an ERISA-regulated employee benefit plan'; and
(2) the plaintiff does not allege the violation of any
'legal duty (state or federal) independent of ERISA or
the plan terms[.]"' Gardner v. Heartland Indus.
Partners, 715 F.3d 609, 613 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 210
for breach of contract and fiduciary duty, if brought under
an employee benefit plan, are preempted because such claims
necessarily relate to the ERISA plan. Girl Scouts of
Middle Tennessee, Inc. v. Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., 770
F.3d 414, 419 (6th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted); see
also Soehnlen v. Fleet Owners Ins. Fund, No. 16-3124,
2016 WL 7383993, at *9 (6th Cir. Dec. 21, 2016) (state laws
that grant relief for these breaches are preempted because
ERISA affords the requested relief). State law claims for the
torts of fraud and misrepresentation have also been held to
be preempted as simply providing "alternative
enforcement mechanisms" to the ERISA enforcement scheme.
See Briscoe v. Fine, 444 F.3d 478, 498 (6th Cir.
2006) (citing Penny/Ohlnwnn/Nieman, Inc. v. Miami Valley
Pension Corp., 399 F.3d 692, 698 (6th Cir. 2005)).
is no dispute that plaintiff here seeks to recover benefits
under an employee benefit plan as defined under ERISA.
Plaintiff states in the amended complaint that this case
arises from the wrongful denial of accidental death benefits
payable to her as a beneficiary under a fully insured group
term life insurance policy, Group Policy No. G-39971 (Policy)
issued by Prudential to defendant Cintas. (Doc. 15, Amended
Complaint, ¶¶ 1, 5, 21; Exh. C). Plaintiff alleges
that Prudential issued the Policy and that the policyholder
and Plan Administrator is Cintas, which is a fiduciary under
ERISA. (Id., ¶¶ 5, 6). Plaintiff alleges
that the Policy covered her deceased spouse, Kelly Carney.
(Id., ¶ 1). Plaintiff asserts that the action
arises under ERISA and "to the extent the claims are not
pre-empted by ERISA, [she] has asserted, bad faith, wrongful
refusal to pay a valid" accidental death claim under the
policy. (Id., ¶ 2). Plaintiff contends she
brings the action under the following provisions of ERISA: 29
U.S.C. §§ 1132(a)(1)(B), 1132(a)(3), and 1132(c).
(Id.). She brings a claim against defendants for
breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA. (Id.,
¶¶ 20, 21, 22, Count One).
plaintiff seeks to recover benefits allegedly owing under an
employee benefit plan, her state law claims are preempted to
the extent they "relate to" the plan. 29 U.S.C.
§ 1144(a). Plaintiffs state law claims clearly arise
from the denial of benefits under the plan at issue and
duplicate her ERISA claim. Plaintiff brings state law claims
for breach of contract based on allegations that Prudential
refused to pay benefits owed under the Policy (Id.,
¶¶ 23- 26, Count Two); fraud and deceit
premised on allegations that Prudential fraudulently
represented to decedent and plaintiff that it would promptly
pay a valid claim under the Policy (Id.,
¶¶ 27-31, Count Three); and bad faith failure
to pay benefits based on defendant's alleged refusal to
pay plaintiff accidental death benefits due under the Policy
(Id., ¶¶ 32-35, Count Four). In making
these claims, plaintiff incorporates by reference the same
conduct she alleges in support of her ERISA claim and then
contends such conduct constitutes violations of state law and
is actionable to the extent her state law claims are not
preempted by ERISA. (Id., ¶¶ 25, 30, 34).
By presenting her state law claims in this manner, plaintiff
leaves no doubt that these claims simply "mirror"
her ERISA claim. See Briscoe, 444 F.3d at 498-99.
Moreover, plaintiff does not dispute that her state law
claims "relate to" an employee benefit plan and
that her state law claims seek to recover benefits under that
plaintiffs state law claims for breach of contract (Count
Two), fraud and deceit (Count Three) and bad faith failure to
pay benefits (Count Four) are preempted by ERISA. Defendant
Prudential's motion to dismiss these claims under Rule
12(b)(6) should be granted.