Brosnan et al v. The Prudential Insurance Company of America
OPINION AND ORDER PARTIALLY REMANDING CASE to Macomb County Circuit Court. Signed by District Judge Linda V. Parker. (DPer)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
MARTIN BROSNAN and GEORGE
Civil Case No. 17-10364
Honorable Linda V. Parker
THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE
COMPANY OF AMERICA, JOSEPH
NARRA, JOHN DOE, GREGORY S. BOBCHICK,
GREGORY A. BOBCHICK, DAWN BOBCHICK,
ROBERT CERRITO, and
CITIZENS INSURANCE COMPANY
OF THE MIDWEST,
OPINION AND ORDER OF PARTIAL REMAND
This lawsuit arises from a tragic automobile accident on May 8, 2015, in
which Jonathan V. Manolios (“Jonathan”) and two other individuals were killed.
In a Complaint originally filed in the Circuit Court for Macomb County, Michigan
on December 28, 2016, Jonathan’s father, George Manolios (“Mr. Manolios”), and
the personal representative of Jonathan’s estate, Martin Brosnan (collectively
“Plaintiffs”), alleged various state law claims against Defendants related to the
accident. Specifically, Plaintiffs claim:
I. Wrongful death- negligence and/or gross negligence
against Joseph Narra (“Narra”), the driver of the
automobile, and Gregory S. Bobchick (“Bobchick
Jr.”), the front seat passenger and alleged legal and/or
constructive owner of the automobile.
II. Owner liability under Michigan Compiled Laws
§ 257.401 against Robert Cerrito, the registered owner
of the vehicle, and Gregory A. Bobchick (“Bobchick
Sr.”) and Dawn Bobchick (“Mrs. Bobchick”), who
took possession of and payment over the automobile
and are the parents of Bobchick Jr.
III. Negligent entrustment against Bobchick Jr., Bobchick
Sr., and Mrs. Bobchick.
IV. Social host liability against John Doe, Bobchick Sr.
and Mrs. Bobchick based on their alleged supply of a
controlled substance and/or alcohol to Narra prior to
V. Breach of contract against the Prudential Insurance
Company of America (“Prudential”) for failing to
pay Mr. Manolios dependent accidental death and
dismemberment benefits pursuant to an insurance
VI. Under-insured/uninsured motorist benefits coverage
against Citizens Insurance Company of the Midwest.
On February 3, 2017, Prudential removed Plaintiffs’ Complaint to federal
court on the basis of a federal question with respect to the breach of contract claim
against it, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Prudential asserts that the insurance policy pursuant
to which Plaintiffs seek benefits is an employee benefit plan governed by the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), and therefore
ERISA completely preempts their state law breach of contract claim. Prudential
maintains that the remaining claims in the Complaint do not arise out of the same
case or controversy as the ERISA claim and should be severed and remanded to
state court. This Court agrees.
Plaintiffs’ Complaint, on its face, alleges claims arising only under state law.
Under the “well-pleaded complaint” rule, then, this case could not have been
removed from state to federal court as involving claims “arising under” federal
law, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1441(a), because federal question jurisdiction ordinarily
“exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff’s
properly pleaded complaint.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392
(1987). “The [well-pleaded complaint] rule makes the plaintiff the master of the
claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.”
Id. (footnote omitted).
Nevertheless, there is “ ‘an independent corollary’ to the well-pleaded
complaint rule, known as the ‘complete pre-emption’ doctrine.” Id. at 393
(internal citation omitted). As the Supreme Court explained, this doctrine applies
where “the pre-emptive force of a statute is so extraordinary that it converts an
ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes
of the well-pleaded complaint rule.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). “ERISA is one of these statutes” that “completely pre-empts [certain]
state-law cause[s] of action,” such that “a claim which comes within the scope of
that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms of state law, is in reality based on
federal law.” Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 208 (2004) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
The doctrine of complete preemption does not reach all claims that are
connected in any way to an employee benefit plan governed by ERISA, however.
While ERISA includes preemption provisions that are “deliberately expansive,”
such that “virtually all state law claims relating to an employee benefit plan are
preempted by ERISA,” state law claims are not preempted “where their effect on
employee benefit plans is merely tenuous, remote, or peripheral.” Marks v.
Newcourt Credit Group, Inc., 342 F.3d 444, 452 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted). The ordinary or “express” preemption triggered by
ERISA “does not provide a basis for removal because it creates only a traditional
preemption defense.” Hogan v. Jacobson, 823 F.3d 872, 879 (6th Cir. 2016).
Only a claim that lies within the scope of ERISA’s “integrated enforcement
mechanism, ERISA § 502(a), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a),” is subject to the “stronger”
preemptive force reflected in the doctrine of complete preemption and is thereby
“removable to federal court” as a claim arising under federal law. Aetna Health,
542 U.S. at 208-09 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). More
specifically, a state-law claim is completely preempted as within the scope of
ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), if “(1) the plaintiff complains
about the denial of benefits to which he is entitled only because of the terms of an
ERISA-regulated employee benefit plan; and (2) the plaintiff does not allege the
violation of any legal duty (state or federal) independent of ERISA of the plan
terms.” Hogen, 823 F.3d at 879 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim against Prudential falls within this
section: Plaintiff is attempting to recover benefits for a beneficiary, Mr. Manolios,
under the terms of an ERISA-governed insurance plan. ERISA, therefore,
completely preempts the claim. Because this claim arises under federal law,
Prudential properly removed the entire action to federal court. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1441(c)(1)1 This does not mean, however, that the entire action should remain
28 U.S.C. § 1441(c) provides:
(1) If a civil action includes—
(A) a claim arising under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States (within the meaning of
section 1331 of this title), and
(B) a claim not within the original or supplemental
jurisdiction of the district court or a claim that has been
made nonremovable by statute, the entire action may be
removed if the action would be removable without the
inclusion of the claim described in subparagraph (B).
Pursuant to § 1441, “claim[s] not within the original or supplemental
jurisdiction of the district court” must be “sever[ed] from the action … and …
remanded to the State court from which the action was removed.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1441(c)(2). The remaining state law claims in Plaintiffs’ Complaint are not
within the original jurisdiction of the district court. Nor do they fall within the
district court’s supplemental jurisdiction, as they are not “so related to claims in
the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or
controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1367(a). Plaintiffs’ claim against Prudential turns on different facts and
circumstances than their state law claims against the remaining defendants.
IT IS ORDERED, that all counts alleged in Plaintiffs’ Complaint, except
Count V against Prudential are REMANDED to the Macomb County Circuit
s/ Linda V. Parker
LINDA V. PARKER
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: February 21, 2017
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was mailed to counsel of
record and/or pro se parties on this date, February 21, 2017, by electronic and/or
U.S. First Class mail.
s/ Richard Loury
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