United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
RUTH M. RAIBLE, Plaintiff,
UNION SECURITY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.
It is respectfully recommended that Plaintiff Ruth Raible's motion to remand to the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (ECF No. 6) be granted.
A. Relevant Facts and Procedural History
Plaintiff was employed as a school nurse in a special education setting by Allegheny Intermediate Unit #3 at Sunrise School located in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1-2). Allegheny Intermediate Unit #3 is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and is a member of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association ("PSBA"). (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand ¶¶ 5, 7, ECF No. 6). PSBA members, such as Allegheny Intermediate Unit #3, can attain various insurance benefits through the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Insurance Trust ("PSBA Insurance Trust"). ( Id. at ¶ 6-8). In this regard, Defendant Union Security Insurance Company issued a long term disability policy ("policy") to the PSBA Insurance Trust to cover eligible employees of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, including Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 1-2); see also (Notice of Removal ¶ 4, ECF No. 1); (Policy, Supplemental Attach., ECF No. 14). Neither the PSBA nor the PSBA Insurance Trust are governmental entities. (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand ¶¶ 7-8, ECF No. 6).
In May 2013, Plaintiff ceased working due to various alleged medical symptoms and/or impairments. (Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1-2). On August 25, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for long term disability benefits under the policy, which was denied by Defendant on November 15, 2013. ( Id. at ¶ 7). Thereafter, Plaintiff purportedly exhausted all administrative levels of appeal in regard to her denial of benefits. ( Id. at ¶¶ 8-11).
On August 26, 2014, Plaintiff initiated this action for breach of contract as a third-party beneficiary under the policy against Defendant in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. On September 24, 2014, Defendant filed a timely notice of removal with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, asserting that the Court has federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e). (Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1).
On October 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed the pending motion to remand asserting that the policy falls within the "governmental plan" exemption under ERISA, and thus, the Court lacks proper federal jurisdiction. (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand, ECF No. 6). Defendant responded to the motion on November 6, 2014 contending that the "governmental plan" exemption is inapplicable and ERISA otherwise applies to this dispute. (Def.'s Br. in Opp'n, ECF No. 10). The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.
B. Standard of Review
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a defendant may remove an action initiated in state court to federal court if the federal court has original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1446 (establishing procedures for removal). "Absent diversity of citizenship, federal-question jurisdiction is required." Catepillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). "The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule, ' which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." Id. (citing Gully v. First Nat'l Bank, 299 U.S. 109, 112-113 (1936)). Consequently, under the well-pleaded complaint rule, "the plaintiff is the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law." Id.
Nevertheless, the "complete pre-emption doctrine" is an "independent corollary" to the well-pleaded complaint rule. Id. at 393. When applicable, the complete pre-emption doctrine "converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule." Id. (quoting Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65 (1987)). As a result, a defendant in such a case may remove a complaint that "purports to raise only state law claims" to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 because "[it] is necessarily federal in character" and arises under the laws of the United States in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Id.
If a plaintiff believes that the defendant's removal was defective, she may file a motion to remand the case to state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). "If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." Id. "Upon a motion to remand, it is the removing party's burden to establish the existence of federal jurisdiction, and all doubts must be resolved in favor of remand." Miller v. Liberty Mut. Group, 97 F.Supp.2d 672, 674 (W.D.Pa. 2000) (citing Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992)). "In deciding whether there is subject matter jurisdiction, affidavits and other matters outside the pleadings may be ...