Tacket v. Guardian Life Insurance Company of America et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 81 Order. Signed by Senior Judge Neal B. Biggers on 11/21/2016. (llw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:15CV45-NBB-JMV
GUARDIAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY
OF AMERICA, ADVANCED HEALTHCARE
MANAGEMENT D/B/A GRACELAND CARE
CENTER, AND JOHN DOE
This cause comes before the court upon the plaintiff’s objections to the magistrate
judge’s order denying her motion to amend the complaint and the text order terminating as moot
her motion to stay. Upon due consideration of the motion, response, and applicable authority,
the court is ready to rule.
Factual and Procedural Background
The plaintiff, Dianne Tacket, filed this action on February 11, 2015, in the Circuit Court
of Pontotoc County, Mississippi, asserting claims against the defendants for breach of contract,
promissory estoppel based on written contract, promissory estoppel based on oral
representations, negligence, post-claim underwriting, fraud in the inducement and/or negligent
misrepresentation and failure to procure, bad faith, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The plaintiff asserts that defendant Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (“Guardian”)
improperly denied her claim for the full benefit allegedly owed to her pursuant to a group life
insurance policy upon the death of her husband.
Guardian removed the case to this court on March 25, 2015, asserting federal question
jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 based on its assertion that the plaintiff’s claims are
preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), §§ 29 U.S.C.
1001-1461. Guardian also removed on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, asserting that the nondiverse defendant, Advanced Healthcare, was fraudulently and improperly joined as a defendant
to defeat diversity jurisdiction. Advanced Healthcare filed a motion to dismiss, and the plaintiff
moved to remand. Guardian opposed the motion to remand, arguing primarily that the plaintiff’s
claims are governed by ERISA and that removal was, therefore, proper.
The court issued a memorandum opinion and order denying both motions on March 16,
2016. The court found the existence of an “employee welfare benefit plan” as defined by ERISA
and that “the damages sought by the plaintiff and the claims upon which they are grounded are
unquestionably based on the plaintiff’s alleged right to receive benefits under the terms of an
ERISA plan, and the claims directly affect the relationship among traditional ERISA entities....”
Accordingly, the court found that the plaintiff’s claims are preempted by ERISA. The court,
however, refused to dismiss Advanced Healthcare from the case at that time until the question is
answered as to what happened to the additional premium payments allegedly retained by
The plaintiff then moved to amend her complaint, but the magistrate judge denied the
motion based on futility, as “the proposed amended complaint simply restates the very same
eight (8) state law causes of action that were asserted in the initial Complaint – claims which this
court has already ruled are entirely preempted by ERISA.” The magistrate judge offered the
plaintiff the opportunity to submit another motion for leave to amend her complaint to assert
ERISA claims and name proper parties. Instead, the plaintiff filed her objections to the
magistrate judge’s order, which the undersigned district judge addresses herein.
Standard of Review
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3), when a litigant objects to a
magistrate judge’s ruling, the district court “must determine de novo any part of the magistrate
judge’s disposition that has been properly objected to.” The district judge must “modify or set
aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a).
“A finding is ‘clearly erroneous’ when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing
court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been
committed.” Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U.S. 273, 284 (1982) (quoting United States v.
United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).
In the instant case, the court’s clarification of an issue addressed in its memorandum
opinion and order denying both the plaintiff’s motion to remand and Advanced Healthcare’s
motion to dismiss should resolve this matter. As the magistrate judge and the defendants note,
the court found that the plaintiff’s state law claims are preempted by ERISA. The plaintiff,
however, is correct in her assertion that the court found her claims against Advanced Healthcare
sufficient to overcome the defendant’s motion to dismiss, as the court was unwilling to dismiss
Advanced Healthcare as a defendant from this action until the question is answered “[W]here did
the additional payment retained by Advanced Healthcare go if not to Guardian?” Though
unwilling to dismiss this party at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage of the litigation without an explanation
of this matter, the court did assume that the plaintiff would amend her complaint to comport with
ERISA. She did not.
The plaintiff’s proposed First Amended Complaint asserts the same causes of action
against Pontotoc LTC, the entity that was the plaintiff’s actual employer (as opposed to
Advanced Healthcare, as the plaintiff had asserted in her original complaint), and a company
known as Integrity Group, which, according to the plaintiff, is the insurance agent responsible
for calculating the amount of premiums to be withheld from the plaintiff’s wages. In addition to
seeking to add these parties as defendants, the plaintiff also seeks to assert an additional claim
for an accounting, but, as the magistrate judge noted, she does not bring this claim under ERISA
Instead the plaintiff asserts in her proposed First Amended Complaint that Advanced
Healthcare, Pontotoc LTC, and Integrity Group “negligently calculated, withheld, and
maintained premiums in excess of the amount billed by Guardian and are jointly and severally
liable to the Plaintiff for her damages related to same.” As the defendants assert, these
allegations clearly “relate to” the plaintiff’s claim for benefits under a policy which this court has
previously determined to be governed by ERISA. The plaintiff’s claim for an accounting, like
her other state law claims, is preempted by ERISA. “State law claims, regardless of how they
are pleaded, are preempted if they ‘relate to’ an ERISA plan.” Epps v. NCNB Texas, 7 F.3d 44,
45 (5th Cir. 1993). “When a court must refer to an ERISA plan to determine the plaintiff’s
retirement benefits and compute the damages claimed, the claim relates to an ERISA plan.” Id.
To determine whether and to what extent the plaintiff overpaid her premiums, the court would be
required to refer to the ERISA plan. The plaintiff’s claim for an accounting thus “relates to” the
ERISA plan and is preempted.
Like the defendants and the magistrate judge, the court is perplexed by the plaintiff’s
attempt to state the same state law causes of action set forth in her original complaint while
omitting the assertion of any claim for relief under ERISA, in light of the court’s previous ruling
that those claims are preempted by ERISA. The court finds that the plaintiff should be allowed
to file an amended complaint, but as it stands now, the plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint is
indeed, as the magistrate judge determined, futile. The court will, however, allow the plaintiff
seven days to resubmit a proposed amended complaint comporting with the foregoing analysis
and with the magistrate judge’s ruling. As the magistrate judge stated in her order, the plaintiff
“should assert her claims pursuant to ERISA, including identifying the sections of ERISA on
which she relies for relief and naming proper party defendants therein.”
The court finds that the magistrate judge’s order denying the plaintiff’s motion to amend
or correct her complaint is not clearly erroneous. The plaintiff’s objections to said order are,
The plaintiff also objects to the magistrate judge’s text order terminating as moot her
motion to stay. In the objection addressed herein, the plaintiff moves the court to stay the
deadlines related to discovery and jury demand until all necessary and proper parties are before
the court. Her original motion to stay, however, simply moved the court to stay said deadlines
“until this Court has ruled on Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint....” The court
finds that the magistrate judge properly terminated said motion as moot upon ruling on the
plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint. A reversal of the magistrate judge’s ruling on
the motion to stay, as it was originally presented, is therefore inappropriate.
For the foregoing reasons, the court finds that the plaintiff’s objections to the magistrate
judge’s ruling denying her motion to amend the complaint are overruled. The plaintiff’s
objection to the magistrate judge’s denial of the motion to stay is likewise overruled. The court
will, however, allow the plaintiff to amend her complaint to restate her claims under ERISA. A
separate order in accord with this opinion shall issue this day.
This, the 21st day of November, 2016.
/s/ Neal Biggers
NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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