The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lewis, District Judge.
Plaintiff, a medical service provider, filed a number of
small complaints with its local district justice. Its default
judgments were consolidated for appeal in the Court of Common
Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, Arbitration
Division. This state court action alleged, inter alia,
avoidance of payment for medical services by defendant. On
December 14, 1990, defendant The Equitable, an "employee
welfare benefit plan" within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 1002,
petitioned this court for removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441,
claiming that plaintiff's suit presented removable federal
questions arising under the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C.A. § 1001, et seq. (ERISA). Accordingly,
defendants asserted that the district court had exclusive
Presently before the court is a question regarding the
court's subject matter jurisdiction. Under these
circumstances, a court is obligated to make its own
determination as to whether it can assume jurisdiction over
matters relating to an action. If the court concludes that it
lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it may, on its own motion,
remand the case to state court. McDonough v. Blue Cross of
Northeastern Pennsylvania, 131 F.R.D. 467 (W.D.Pa. 1990); Mall
v. Atlantic Financial Federal, 127 F.R.D. 107 (W.D.Pa. 1989);
Recchion v. Kirby, 637 F. Supp. 290 (W.D.Pa. 1986).
Defendant grounded its petition for removal on ERISA § 514,
Except as otherwise provided in subsection (b)
(dealing with laws which regulate insurance), the
provisions of this subchapter shall supersede any
and all state laws insofar as they now or
hereinafter relate to any employee benefit plan.
The Supreme Court, in Pilot Life Insurance Co. v. Dedeaux,
481 U.S. 41, 107 S.Ct. 1549, 95 L.Ed.2d 39 (1987), interpreted
this section in conjunction with the legislative history of the
Act and held that the civil enforcement provisions of ERISA §
514 are the exclusive vehicle for actions by ERISA plan
participants and beneficiaries. As such, all claims arising
under this provision present removable federal questions.
Supreme Court doctrine does not, however, permit automatic
removal of all ERISA cases to federal court. In
Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63, 107
S.Ct. 1542, 1546, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987), the Court held that
merely because a state law claim is subject to preemption does
not convert the state claim into a federal question within the
meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See also Allstate Insurance Co. v.
65 Security Plan, 879 F.2d 90, 93 (3d Cir. 1989). Under the
removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b), absent diversity of
citizenship (as in the present case), a defendant's power to
remove a state court action to federal court turns on whether
the plaintiff's claim arises under federal law within the
meaning of 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331. McDonough, 131 F.R.D. at 469.
Moreover, for both removal and original jurisdiction, the
federal question*fn1 must appear on the face of the complaint
unaided by the answer, counterclaim or petition for removal.
Id. at 469.
These firmly-established principles are recognized as the
"well pleaded complaint rule." This rule remains in effect
where plaintiff's state law claims are faced with an ERISA
preemption defense. Metropolitan Life, 481 U.S. at 63, 107
S.Ct. at 1546; Allstate, 879 F.2d at 93. ("[T]he fact that the
[defendant] may have a[n] [ERISA] preemption defense does not
alone permit removal."). An exception to the well-pleaded
complaint rule, known as complete preemption, exists only where
it is found that Congress has so completely preempted a
particular area, that "any civil complaint raising this select
group of claims is necessarily federal in character."
McDonough, 131 F.R.D. at 470.
Plaintiff's complaint appears to present a simple state law
breach of contract claim.*fn2 As such, the court must
determine whether the claim asserted is one of those "select
group of claims" which Congress intended to fall within
ERISA's exclusive civil enforcement provisions as set forth in
§ 502(a), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a). McDonough, 131 F.R.D. 467. In
Allstate, the Third Circuit outlined a two-prong test which
will support removal jurisdiction in an ERISA case:
1. Congressional intent to permit removal
despite plaintiff's exclusive reliance on
state law (preemption); and
2. The enforcement provisions of the federal
statute create a federal cause of action
vindicating the same interests that the
plaintiff's state law ...