United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER OF PARTIAL REMAND
V. PARKER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
lawsuit arises from a tragic automobile accident on May 8,
2015, in which Jonathan V. Manolios (“Jonathan”)
and two other individuals were killed. In a Complaint
originally filed in the Circuit Court for Macomb County,
Michigan on December 28, 2016, Jonathan's father, George
Manolios (“Mr. Manolios”), and the personal
representative of Jonathan's estate, Martin Brosnan
(collectively “Plaintiffs”), alleged various
state law claims against Defendants related to the accident.
Specifically, Plaintiffs claim:
I. Wrongful death- negligence and/or gross negligence against
Joseph Narra (“Narra”), the driver of the
automobile, and Gregory S. Bobchick (“Bobchick
Jr.”), the front seat passenger and alleged legal
and/or constructive owner of the automobile.
II. Owner liability under Michigan Compiled Laws §
257.401 against Robert Cerrito, the registered owner of the
vehicle, and Gregory A. Bobchick (“Bobchick Sr.”)
and Dawn Bobchick (“Mrs. Bobchick”), who took
possession of and payment over the automobile and are the
parents of Bobchick Jr.
III. Negligent entrustment against Bobchick Jr., Bobchick
Sr., and Mrs. Bobchick.
IV. Social host liability against John Doe, Bobchick Sr. and
Mrs. Bobchick based on their alleged supply of a controlled
substance and/or alcohol to Narra prior to the accident.
V. Breach of contract against the Prudential Insurance
Company of America (“Prudential”) for failing to
pay Mr. Manolios dependent accidental death and dismemberment
benefits pursuant to an insurance plan.
VI. Under-insured/uninsured motorist benefits coverage
against Citizens Insurance Company of the Midwest.
February 3, 2017, Prudential removed Plaintiffs'
Complaint to federal court on the basis of a federal question
with respect to the breach of contract claim against it, 28
U.S.C. § 1331. Prudential asserts that the insurance
policy pursuant to which Plaintiffs seek benefits is an
employee benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), and
therefore ERISA completely preempts their state law breach of
contract claim. Prudential maintains that the remaining
claims in the Complaint do not arise out of the same case or
controversy as the ERISA claim and should be severed and
remanded to state court. This Court agrees.
Complaint, on its face, alleges claims arising only under
state law. Under the “well-pleaded complaint”
rule, then, this case could not have been removed from state
to federal court as involving claims “arising
under” federal law, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331,
1441(a), because federal question jurisdiction ordinarily
“exists only when a federal question is presented on
the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded
complaint.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482
U.S. 386, 392 (1987). “The [well-pleaded complaint]
rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she
may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state
law.” Id. (footnote omitted).
there is “ ‘an independent corollary' to the
well-pleaded complaint rule, known as the ‘complete
pre-emption' doctrine.” Id. at 393
(internal citation omitted). As the Supreme Court explained,
this doctrine applies where “the pre-emptive force of a
statute is so extraordinary that it converts an ordinary
state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim
for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule.”
Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
“ERISA is one of these statutes” that
“completely pre-empts [certain] state-law cause[s] of
action, ” such that “a claim which comes within
the scope of that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms
of state law, is in reality based on federal law.”
Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 208
(2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
doctrine of complete preemption does not reach all claims
that are connected in any way to an employee benefit plan
governed by ERISA, however. While ERISA includes preemption
provisions that are “deliberately expansive, ”
such that “virtually all state law claims relating to
an employee benefit plan are preempted by ERISA, ”
state law claims are not preempted “where their effect
on employee benefit plans is merely tenuous, remote, or
peripheral.” Marks v. Newcourt Credit Group,
Inc., 342 F.3d 444, 452 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted). The ordinary or
“express” preemption triggered by ERISA
“does not provide a basis for removal because it
creates only a traditional preemption defense.”
Hogan v. Jacobson, 823 F.3d 872, 879 (6th Cir.
claim that lies within the scope of ERISA's
“integrated enforcement mechanism, ERISA § 502(a),
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a), ” is subject to the
“stronger” preemptive force reflected in the
doctrine of complete preemption and is thereby
“removable to federal court” as a claim arising
under federal law. Aetna Health, 542 U.S. at 208-09
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). More
specifically, a state-law claim is completely preempted as
within the scope of ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(a)(1)(B), 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 of the
plan terms.” Hogen, 823 F.3d at 879 (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted).
breach of contract claim against Prudential falls within this
section: Plaintiff is attempting to recover benefits for a
beneficiary, Mr. Manolios, under the terms of an
ERISA-governed insurance plan. ERISA, therefore, completely
preempts the claim. Because this claim arises under federal
law, Prudential properly removed the entire action to federal