This case presents the question whether the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 88 Stat. 829, as amended, 29 U. S. C. § 1001 et seq., pre-empts state common law tort and contract actions asserting improper processing of a claim for benefits under an insured employee benefit plan.
In March 1975, in Gulfport, Mississippi, respondent Everate W. Dedeaux injured his back in an accident related to his employment for Entex, Inc. (Entex). Entex had at this time a long term disability employee benefit plan established by purchasing a group insurance policy from petitioner, Pilot Life Insurance Co. (Pilot Life). Entex collected and matched its employees' contributions to the plan and forwarded those funds to Pilot Life; the employer also provided forms to its employees for processing disability claims, and forwarded completed forms to Pilot Life. Pilot Life bore the responsibility of determining who would receive disability benefits. Although Dedeaux sought permanent disability benefits following the 1975 accident, Pilot Life terminated his benefits after two years. During the following three years Dedeaux's benefits were reinstated and terminated by Pilot Life several times.
In 1980, Dedeaux instituted a diversity action against Pilot Life in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Dedeaux's complaint contained three counts: "Tortious Breach of Contract"; "Breach of Fiduciary Duties"; and "Fraud in the Inducement." App. 18-23. Dedeaux sought "[d]amages for failure to provide benefits under the insurance policy in a sum to be determined at the time of trial," "[g]eneral damages for mental and emotional distress and other incidental damages in the sum of $250,000.00," and "[p]unitive and exemplary damages in the
At the close of discovery, Pilot Life moved for summary judgment, arguing that ERISA pre-empted Dedeaux's common law claim for failure to pay benefits on the group insurance policy. The District Court granted Pilot Life summary judgment, finding all Dedeaux's claims pre-empted. App. to Pet. Cert. 16a.
The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, primarily on the basis of this Court's decision in Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts, 471 U.S. 724 (1985). See 770 F.2d 1311 (1985). We granted certiorari, 478 U.S. 1004 (1986), and now reverse.
In ERISA, Congress set out to
ERISA comprehensively regulates, among other things, employee welfare benefit plans that, "through the purchase of insurance or otherwise," provide medical, surgical, or hospital care, or benefits in the event of sickness, accident, disability, or death. § 3(1), 29 U. S. C. § 1002(1).
Congress capped off the massive undertaking of ERISA with three provisions relating to the pre-emptive effect of the federal legislation:
To summarize the pure mechanics of the provisions quoted above: If a state law "relate[s] to . . . employee benefit plan[s]," it is pre-empted. § 514(a). The saving clause excepts from the pre-emption clause laws that "regulat[e] insurance." § 514(b)(2)(A). The deemer clause makes clear that a state law that "purport[s] to regulate insurance" cannot deem an employee benefit plan to be an insurance company. § 514(b)(2)(B).
"[T]he question whether a certain state action is preempted by federal law is one of congressional intent. ` "The purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone." ' " Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 208 (1985), quoting Malone v. White Motor Corp., 435 U.S. 497, 504 (1978), quoting Retail Clerks v. Schermerhorn, 375 U.S. 96, 103 (1963). We have observed in the past that the express pre-emption
The House and Senate sponsors emphasized both the breadth and importance of the pre-emption provisions. Representative Dent described the "reservation to Federal authority [of] the sole power to regulate the field of employee benefit plans" as ERISA's "crowning achievement." 120 Cong. Rec. 29197 (1974). Senator Williams said:
See also Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., supra, at 99-100, n. 20 (describing remarks of Sen. Javits).
In Metropolitan Life, this Court, noting that the preemption and saving clauses "perhaps are not a model of legislative drafting," 471 U. S., at 739, interpreted these clauses in relation to a Massachusetts statute that required minimum
The Court concluded, first, that the Massachusetts statute did "relate to . . . employee benefit plan[s]," thus placing the state statute within the broad sweep of the pre-emption clause, § 514(a). Metropolitan Life, supra, at 739. However, the Court held that, because the state statute was one that "regulate[d] insurance," the saving clause prevented the state law from being pre-empted. In determining whether the Massachusetts statute regulated insurance, the Court was guided by case law interpreting the phrase "business of insurance" in the McCarran-Ferguson Act, 59 Stat. 33, as amended, 15 U. S. C. § 1011 et seq.
Given the "statutory complexity" of ERISA's three pre-emption provisions, Metropolitan Life, supra, at 740, as well as the wide variety of state statutory and decisional law arguably affected by the federal pre-emption provisions, it is not surprising that we are again called on to interpret these provisions.
There is no dispute that the common law causes of action asserted in Dedeaux's complaint "relate to" an employee benefit plan and therefore fall under ERISA's express pre-emption clause, § 514(a). In both Metropolitan Life, supra, and Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., supra, at 96-100, we noted the expansive sweep of the pre-emption clause. In both cases "[t]he phrase `relate to' was given its broad common-sense meaning, such that a state law `relate[s] to' a benefit plan `in the normal sense of the phrase, if it has a connection with or reference to such a plan.' " Metropolitan Life, supra, at 739, quoting Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, supra, at 97. In particular we have emphasized that the pre-emption clause is not limited to "state laws specifically designed
Unless these common law causes of action fall under an exception to § 514(a), therefore, they are expressly pre-empted. Although Dedeaux's complaint pleaded several state common law causes of action, before this Court Dedeaux has described only one of the three counts — called "tortious breach of contract" in the complaint, and "the Mississippi law of bad faith" in respondent's brief — as protected from the pre-emptive effect of § 514(a). The Mississippi law of bad faith, Dedeaux argues, is a law "which regulates insurance," and thus is saved from pre-emption by § 514(b)(2)(A).
In Metropolitan Life, we were guided by several considerations in determining whether a state law falls under the saving clause. First, we took what guidance was available from a "common-sense view" of the language of the saving clause itself. 471 U. S., at 740. Second, we made use of the case law interpreting the phrase "business of insurance" under the McCarran-Ferguson Act, 15 U. S. C. § 1011 et seq., in interpreting the saving clause.
In the present case, the considerations weighed in Metropolitan Life argue against the assertion that the Mississippi law of bad faith is a state law that "regulates insurance."
As early as 1915 the Mississippi Supreme Court had recognized that punitive damages were available in a contract case when "the act or omission constituting the breach of the contract amounts also to the commission of a tort." See Hood v. Moffett, 109 Miss. 757, 767, 69 So. 664, 666 (1915) (involving a physician's breach of a contract to attend to a woman at her approaching "accouchement"). In American Railway Express Co. v. Bailey, 142 Miss. 622, 631, 107 So. 761, 763 (1926), a case involving a failure of a finance company to deliver to the plaintiff the correct amount of money cabled to the plaintiff through the finance company's offices, the Mississippi Supreme Court explained that punitive damages could be available when the breach of contract was "attended by some intentional wrong, insult, abuse, or gross negligence, which amounts to an independent tort." In Standard Life Insurance Co. v. Veal, 354 So.2d 239 (1977), the Mississippi Supreme Court, citing D. L. Fair Lumber Co. v. Weems, 196 Miss. 201, 16 So.2d 770 (1944) (breach of contract was accompanied by "the breaking down and destruction of another's fence"), American Railway Express Co. v. Bailey, supra, and Hood v. Moffett, supra, upheld an award of punitive damages against a defendant insurance company for failure to pay on a credit life policy. Since Veal, the Mississippi Supreme Court has considered a large number of cases in which plaintiffs have sought punitive damages from insurance companies for failure to pay a claim under an insurance contract, and in a great many of these cases the court has used the identical formulation, first stated in Bailey, of what must "attend" the breach of contract in order for punitive
Certainly a common-sense understanding of the phrase "regulates insurance" does not support the argument that the Mississippi law of bad faith falls under the saving clause. A common-sense view of the word "regulates" would lead to the conclusion that in order to regulate insurance, a law must not just have an impact on the insurance industry, but must be specifically directed toward that industry. Even though the Mississippi Supreme Court has identified its law of bad faith with the insurance industry, the roots of this law are firmly planted in the general principles of Mississippi tort and contract law. Any breach of contract, and not merely breach of an insurance contract, may lead to liability for punitive damages under Mississippi law.
Neither do the McCarran-Ferguson Act factors support the assertion that the Mississippi law of bad faith "regulates insurance." Unlike the mandated-benefits law at issue in Metropolitan Life, the Mississippi common law of bad faith does not effect a spreading of policyholder risk. The state common law of bad faith may be said to concern "the policy relationship between the insurer and the insured." The connection
In the present case, moreover, we are obliged in interpreting the saving clause to consider not only the factors by which we were guided in Metropolitan Life, but also the role of the saving clause in ERISA as a whole. On numerous occasions we have noted that " ` " `[i]n expounding a statute, we must not be guided by a single sentence or member of a sentence, but look to the provisions of the whole law, and to its object and policy.' " ' " Kelly v. Robinson, 479 U.S. 36, 43 (1986), quoting Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207, 221 (1986) (quoting Mastro Plastics Corp. v. NLRB, 350 U.S. 270, 285 (1956) (in turn quoting United States v. Heirs of Boisdore, 8 How. 113, 122 (1849))). Because in this case,
The Solicitor General, for the United States as amicus curiae, argues that Congress clearly expressed an intent that the civil enforcement provisions of ERISA § 502(a) be the exclusive vehicle for actions by ERISA-plan participants and beneficiaries asserting improper processing of a claim for benefits, and that varying state causes of action for claims within the scope of § 502(a) would pose an obstacle to the purposes and objectives of Congress. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 18-19. We agree. The conclusion that § 502(a) was intended to be exclusive is supported, first, by the language and structure of the civil enforcement provisions, and second, by legislative history in which Congress declared that the pre-emptive force of § 502(a) was modeled on the exclusive remedy provided by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (LMRA), 61 Stat. 156, 29 U. S. C. § 185.
The civil enforcement scheme of § 502(a) is one of the essential tools for accomplishing the stated purposes of ERISA.
In sum, the detailed provisions of § 502(a) set forth a comprehensive civil enforcement scheme that represents a careful balancing of the need for prompt and fair claims settlement procedures against the public interest in encouraging the formation of employee benefit plans. The policy choices reflected in the inclusion of certain remedies and the exclusion of others under the federal scheme would be completely undermined if ERISA-plan participants and beneficiaries were free to obtain remedies under state law that Congress rejected in ERISA. "The six carefully integrated civil enforcement provisions found in § 502(a) of the statute as finally enacted . . . provide strong evidence that Congress did not intend to authorize other remedies that it simply forgot to incorporate expressly." Russell, supra, at 146 (emphasis in original).
The deliberate care with which ERISA's civil enforcement remedies were drafted and the balancing of policies embodied in its choice of remedies argue strongly for the conclusion that ERISA's civil enforcement remedies were intended to be exclusive. This conclusion is fully confirmed by the legislative history of the civil enforcement provision. The legislative history demonstrates that the pre-emptive force of § 502(a) was modeled after § 301 of the LMRA.
Congress was well aware that the powerful pre-emptive force of § 301 of the LMRA displaced all state actions for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization, even when the state action purported to authorize a remedy unavailable under the federal provision. Section 301 pre-empts any "state-law claim [whose resolution] is substantially dependent upon the analysis of the terms of an agreement made between the parties in a labor contract." Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U. S., at 220. As we observed in Allis-Chalmers, the broad pre-emptive effect of § 301 was first analyzed in Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95 (1962). In Lucas Flour the Court found that "[t]he dimensions of § 301 require the conclusion that substantive principles of federal labor law must be paramount in the area covered by the statute." Id., at 103. "[I]n enacting § 301 Congress intended doctrines of federal labor law uniformly to prevail over inconsistent local rules." Id., at 104. Indeed, for purposes of determining federal jurisdiction, this Court has singled out § 301 of the LMRA as having "pre-emptive
Congress' specific reference to § 301 of the LMRA to describe the civil enforcement scheme of ERISA makes clear its intention that all suits brought by beneficiaries or participants asserting improper processing of claims under ERISA-regulated plans be treated as federal questions governed by § 502(a). See also H. R. Rep. No. 93-533, p. 12 (1973), reprinted in 2 Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Legislative History of ERISA, 94th Cong., 2d Sess., 2359 (Comm. Print 1976) ("The uniformity of decision which the Act is designed to foster will help administrators, fiduciaries and participants to predict the legality of proposed actions without the necessity of reference to varying state laws"); 120 Cong. Rec. 29933 (1974) (remarks of Sen. Williams) (suits involving claims for benefits "will be regarded as arising under the laws of the United States, in similar fashion to those brought under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act"); id., at 29942 (remarks of Sen. Javits) ("[i]t is also intended that a body of Federal substantive law will be developed by the courts to deal with issues involving rights and obligations under private welfare and pension plans"). The expectations that a federal common law of rights and obligations under ERISA-regulated plans would develop, indeed, the entire comparison of ERISA's § 502(a) to § 301 of the LMRA, would make little sense if the remedies available to ERISA participants and beneficiaries under § 502(a) could be supplemented or supplanted by varying state laws.
In Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts, 471 U. S., at 746, this Court rejected an interpretation of the saving clause of ERISA's express pre-emption provisions, § 514(b) (2)(A), 29 U. S. C. § 1144(b)(2)(A), that saved from pre-emption
Considering the common-sense understanding of the saving clause, the McCarran-Ferguson Act factors defining the business of insurance, and, most importantly, the clear expression of congressional intent that ERISA's civil enforcement scheme be exclusive, we conclude that Dedeaux's state law suit asserting improper processing of a claim for benefits under an ERISA-regulated plan is not saved by § 514(b)(2)(A), and therefore is pre-empted by § 514(a).
"A civil action may be brought —
"(1) by a participant or beneficiary —
"(A) for the relief provided for in subsection (c) of this section [concerning requests to the administrator for information], or
"(B) 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;
"(2) by the Secretary, or by a participant, beneficiary or fiduciary for appropriate relief under section 1109 of this title [breach of fiduciary duty];
"(3) by a participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary (A) to enjoin any act or practice which violates any provision of this subchapter or the terms of the plan, or (B) to obtain other appropriate equitable relief (i) to redress such violations or (ii) to enforce any provisions of this subchapter or the terms of the plan;
"(4) by the Secretary, or by a participant, or beneficiary for appropriate relief in the case of a violation of 1025(c) of this title [information to be furnished to participants];
"(5) except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) of this subsection, by the Secretary (A) to enjoin any act or practice which violates any provision of this subchapter, or (B) to obtain other appropriate equitable relief (i) to redress such violation or (ii) to enforce any provision of this subchapter;
"(6) by the Secretary to collect any civil penalty under subsection (i) of this section."