Coleman v. Unum Group Corporation
ORDER granting 6 Motion to Remand to the Circuit Court of Mobile County. Signed by Chief Judge William H. Steele on 6/1/2015. (tgw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
P. MICHAEL COLEMAN,
UNUM GROUP CORPORATION,
) CIVIL ACTION 15-0192-WS-M
This matter is before the Court on the plaintiff’s motion to remand. (Doc.
6). The parties have filed briefs and evidentiary materials in support of their
respective positions, (Docs. 6, 10, 14), and the motion is ripe for resolution.
The complaint consists of single count for breach of contract (failure to pay
on a disability policy). Although the parties are of diverse citizenship, the
complaint seeks damages of barely $30,000, too little to satisfy the jurisdictional
threshold under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Undeterred, the defendant claims subject
matter jurisdiction based on federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, specifically,
ERISA super-preemption. (Doc. 1 at 2, 4).
“Here’s the rule: ERISA superpreemption exists only when the plaintiff is
seeking relief that is available under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a).” Butero v. Royal
Maccabees Life Insurance Co., 174 F.3d 1207, 1212 (11th Cir. 1999) (internal
quotes omitted). “[R]elief is available, and there is complete preemption, when
four elements are satisfied. First, there must be a relevant ERISA plan. [citations
omitted] Second, the plaintiff must have standing to sue under that plan.
[citations omitted] Third, the defendant must be an ERISA entity. [citations
omitted] Finally, the complaint must seek compensatory relief akin to that
available under § 1132 (a) ….” Id.
As to the first Butero element, “[t]he defendants must show five things to
establish that an ERISA plan governs its relationship with Plaintiff: (1) a plan,
fund, or program (2) [that has been] established or maintained (3) by an employer
… (4) for the purpose of providing … disability … benefits (5) to participants or
their beneficiaries.” Moorman v. UnumProvident Corp., 464 F.3d 1260, 1269
(11th Cir. 2006) (internal quotes omitted). The defendant acknowledges it must
satisfy this test. (Doc. 1 at 5; Doc. 10 at 1).
The defendant says a plan was “established or maintained … by an
employer” because (1) “the employer negotiated an agreement under which its
employees would have access to multiple insurance products and be eligible for a
group discount on their premiums; and (2) the employer paid 100% of the
disability insurance premiums pursuant to a list bill issued to the employer
continuously for at least twenty years.” (Doc. 1 at 6). The Court does not find the
defendant’s evidence and argument sufficient to support these propositions.
As for the former assertion, the defendant offers no evidence of employer
“negotiation.” While the defendant may have offered the plaintiff an individual
policy at a premium discount because it was also offering a handful of other
employees individual policies, the defendant has not explained how that proves the
employer established or maintained the plan as opposed to the defendant simply
making a business or actuarial calculation. As for the latter, while the employer
did remit payment to the defendant, it is uncontroverted that the payments were a
portion of his salary, on which he was taxed, and the defendant has not explained
how such a circumstance demonstrates the employer established or maintained the
“[T]he burden of establishing removal jurisdiction rests with the defendant
seeking removal.” Scimone v. Carnival Corp., 720 F.3d 876, 882 (11th Cir. 2013);
accord Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v. Blomberg, 552 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir.
2008). “[B]ecause removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, …
all doubts about jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state court.”
City of Vestavia Hills v. General Fidelity Insurance Co., 676 F.3d 1310, 1313 (11th
Cir. 2012) (internal quotes omitted). Because the defendant’s evidence and
argument leave the existence of subject matter jurisdiction doubtful, the plaintiff’s
motion to remand is granted. This action is remanded to the Circuit Court of
DONE and ORDERED this 1st day of June, 2015.
s/ WILLIAM H. STEELE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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