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Wingo v. Trover Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 1, 2017

DENISE WINGO, Plaintiff-,


          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

         Presently before me is Plaintiff Denise Wingo's (“Wingo”) Motion to Remand this Action to State Court. (Doc. 10.) Because § 502(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq., provides subject matter jurisdiction over this action, Wingo's motion to remand will be denied.

         I. Background

         The events leading to this action began when Wingo was injured in a car accident and received short term disability benefits totaling $14, 189.28 under a Group Disability Plan issued by Metlife (the “Plan”).[1] (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶¶ 6, 8, 10.) Wingo also brought suit against the tortfeasor, resulting in a settlement which included compensation for the personal injuries she sustained in the accident. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶¶ 11-12.) Trover Solutions, Inc. (“Trover”), [2] which contracts with Metlife to provide recovery services, contacted Wingo on January 27, 2016, asserting recovery rights against the proceeds of Wingo's personal injury recovery for the disability benefits paid to her. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, Ex. B.) In response, Wingo asserted through her counsel on April 27, 2016, that Trover's request violated its own policy and asked Trover to confirm in writing that it was waiving its entire subrogation interest in the matter. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, Ex. C.) Trover confirmed the next day that it had closed its claim and was no longer pursuing recovery. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, Ex. D.) Wingo never paid any money to Trover. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶¶ 28, 32-33.)

         Wingo originally filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County, Pennsylvania on or about March 29, 2017. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1.) In her Complaint, Wingo alleges claims against Trover for violations of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law § 1720 (“MVFRL”), the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”), and the Pennsylvania Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act (“PFCEUA”), as well as attempted theft. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶¶ 36-67.) As a result, Wingo requests “a declaration that [] Trover has no right for recovery of reimbursement of disability benefits paid from the proceeds” of the relevant settlement for the purpose of “clarifying and settling the legal relations at issue between the parties.” (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶¶ 46, 50.)

         On May 12, 2017, Trover removed the action to this Court. (Doc. 1.) Trover contends that federal subject matter jurisdiction over this action exists pursuant to § 502(a) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), because Wingo seeks a judgment interpreting the rights of the parties under an ERISA-regulated welfare benefit plan. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 7, 10.)

         On May 31, 2017, Wingo filed the instant motion to remand the action to the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County. (Doc. 10.) Trover filed a brief in opposition on June 14, 2017 (Doc. 12), and Wingo filed a reply brief in further support of her motion on June 23, 2017. (Doc. 13.) Thus, the motion to remand is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) provides that any civil action brought in state court of which the federal district courts have original jurisdiction may be removed by the defendant to the appropriate federal district court. One category of cases of which district courts have original jurisdiction is “[f]ederal question” cases: cases arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. An action must be remanded if “it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). On a motion to remand, the removing party bears the burden of establishing the propriety of removal. See Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1085, 111 S.Ct. 959, 112 L.Ed.2d 1046 (1991). Furthermore, “removal statutes are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts resolved in favor of remand.” Id. In determining whether remand based on improper removal is appropriate, the Court “must focus on the plaintiff's complaint at the time the petition for removal was filed, ” and assume all factual allegations therein are true. Steel Valley Auth. v. Union Switch & Signal Div. Am. Standard, Inc., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir. 1987).

         Under the “well-pleaded complaint” rule, federal question jurisdiction generally exists only when an issue of federal law appears on the face of the plaintiff's complaint.” Pryzbowski v. U.S. Healthcare, Inc., 245 F.3d 266, 271 (3d Cir. 2001). However, when a defendant claims removal is proper based on complete preemption, “a federal court may look beyond the face of the complaint to determine whether a plaintiff has artfully pleaded his suit so as to couch a federal claim in terms of state law.” Id. at 274 (internal quotation marks omitted). A plaintiff may not avoid removal to federal court “by omitting to plead necessary federal questions in a complaint.” Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. V. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. California, 463 U.S. 1, 22 (1983).

         B. Analysis

         Wingo argues that remand is necessary in this case because the action does not present issues of federal law and does not involve diversity of citizenship. Trover insists that federal subject matter jurisdiction exists pursuant to § 502(a) of ERISA, which provides that “[a] civil action may be brought by a participant or beneficiary to recover benefits due to him 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.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). The jurisdictional subsection of ERISA's civil enforcement provisions provides: “The district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction, without respect to the amount in controversy or the citizenship of the parties, to grant the relief provided for in subsection (a) of this section in any action.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(f).

         A federal court has original jurisdiction where Congress has “so completely pre-empt[ed] a particular area that any civil complaint raising this select group of claims is necessarily federal in character.” Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63-64 (1987). “Certain federal laws, [] including ERISA, so sweepingly occupy a field of regulatory interest that any claim brought within that field, however stated in the complaint, is in essence a federal claim. In such cases, the doctrine of complete preemption provides federal jurisdiction and allows removal to federal court.” Levine v. United Healthcare Corp., 402 F.3d 156, 163 (3d Cir. 2005). In particular, § 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA “is one of those provisions with such extraordinary preemptive power that it converts an ordinary state common law complaint into one stating a federal claim.” Aetna Health Inc. V. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 209 (2004) (internal quotations removed). See also Wirth v. Aetna U.S. Healthcare, 469 F.3d 305, 307 (3d ...

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