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Maria A. Kuntz v. Aetna

February 18, 2011

MARIA A. KUNTZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AETNA, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tucker, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

February ____, 2011

Presently before this Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Remand (Doc. 3) and Defendant's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 6). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' Motion.

BACKGROUND

On October 16, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas seeking payment of Long Term Disability Benefits under Plaintiff's Insurance Policy with Defendant pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") 20 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq.*fn1 Plaintiff served the Complaint on Defendant by certified mail at the following address: Aetna, Inc., P.O. Box 14557, Lexington, KY 40512. Plaintiff obtained the address for service on Defendant from the final denial letter sent to her, advising her

of her rights under ERISA. Plaintiff claims that no other address for Defendant was indicated on the denial letter. The Return Receipt Card for the Complaint was signed by Gayle R. Williams "on behalf of ACS/Aetna" on October 29, 2009.

On January 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Praecipe for Judgment against Defendant for want of Answer to the Complaint and the Prothonotary of Northampton County entered the default judgment against Defendant. Notice of the default judgment appears to have been mailed to Defendant at the aforementioned address on January 28, 2010.

Defendant claims that it did not learn of Plaintiff's Complaint or the Notice of Default until February 11, 2010, when ACS, its contracted imaging vendor, sent the document to Aetna. Defendant avers that on February 22, 2010, its counsel contacted Plaintiff's counsel to request a courtesy copy of the Complaint. Plaintiff's counsel emailed the Complaint to Defendant's counsel the same day.

On March 2, 2010, Defendant removed the case to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction (Doc. 1). In the Notice of Removal, Defendant claims it never received the Notice of the default judgment and did not learn of the default judgment until February 11, 2010. As such, Defendant claims it timely filed the Removal Notice within thirty (30) days as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). On March 12, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand (Doc. 3) arguing that it properly served Defendant on October 29, 2009, Defendant failed to remove the case to federal court within 30 days, and thus the removal was improper. Defendant filed a Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 6) on March 18, 2010. The Court will now address this pending motion.

LEGAL STANDARD

"Federal courts have an ever-present obligation to satisfy themselves of their subject matter jurisdiction and to decide the issue sua sponte." Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ward Trucking Corp., 48 F.3d 742, 750 (3d Cir. 1995). Federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over cases that meet the standards for diversity jurisdiction and cases that raise federal questions. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1332. The party moving for removal bears the burden of showing that removal is appropriate. Abels v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 770 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir. 1985).

Cases removed to federal court are subject to remand under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The district court must grant a motion to remand "[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the . . . court lacks subject matter jurisdiction ..." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). See also Bromwell v. Michigan Mut. Ins. Co., 115 F.3d 208, 213 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing Int'l Primate Protection League v. Administrators of Tulane Educ. Fund, 500 U.S. 72, 87 (1991)). Jurisdiction must be evaluated "according to the plaintiff's pleading at the time of the petition for removal." Abels, 770 F.2d at 29. The removal statutes are to be strictly construed and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand. Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir.1990).

DISCUSSION

Defendant removed the case to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Plaintiff argues that removal was procedurally improper because Defendant did not comply with Section 1446(b) which provides that notice of removal must be filed within thirty days after receipt of the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleadings. Plaintiff argues that she served her Complaint on Defendant on October 29, 2009, as evidenced by the return receipt signed by Gayle R. Williams "on behalf of ACS/Aetna." Plaintiff further argues that Defendant had thirty days, ...


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