MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Joanne Wolff brings a purported class action against Defendants Aetna Life Insurance Company and The Rawlings Company LLC. Wolff alleges that Aetna and Rawlings improperly demanded subrogation from a tort settlement she received. In this Memorandum Opinion, I address Defendants' motion to dismiss the majority of the counts contained in her complaint.
Wolff was insured for long-term disability benefits under a fully insured group plan issued by Aetna through Wolff's employer, Bank of America Corporation.
On September 30, 2015, Wolff was temporarily disabled in a motor-vehicle accident.
Separately, Wolff claimed tort damages against the other party in the motor-vehicle accident.
Aetna and Rawlings then asserted a claim for reimbursement against Wolff of the long-term disability benefits paid to her from the settlement in the tort action.
On August 8, 2019, Wolff filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A plaintiff is required to provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."
Wolff's Amended Complaint contains fifteen counts against Defendants that arise under ERISA or Pennsylvania state law. Defendants argue that ERISA preempts Wolff's state-law claims, as well as an assortment of bases to dismiss that are particular to fewer of the counts. I address these in turn.
Many of the issues in this motion rest on whether ERISA preempts the state laws under which Wolff claims relief. "ERISA includes expansive pre-emption provisions, ... which are intended to ensure that employee benefit plan regulation is exclusively a federal concern."
1. The Standards for ERISA Preemption
A state law may be completely preempted or expressly preempted by ERISA. Complete preemption occurs when "(1) the plaintiff could have brought the claim under [ERISA] § 502(a); and (2) no other independent legal duty supports the plaintiff's claim."
Express preemption is governed by ERISA § 514 (codified at 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a)), which states that ERISA "shall supersede any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan" covered by ERISA. "[T]he phrase `relates to' [is] given its broad common-sense meaning, such that a state law `relates to' a benefit plan `in the normal sense of the phrase, if it has a connection with or reference to such a plan.'"
2. Count II: Declaratory Judgment
Defendants move to dismiss Count II, Wolff's claim for declaratory judgment, as preempted by ERISA.
While Wolff seeks a declaratory judgment in Count II, her complaint does not specify by which of the three avenues she conceivably might be entitled to one: Pennsylvania's declaratory judgment act, the federal declaratory judgment act, or ERISA itself. She clarifies in her surreply brief that she seeks a declaratory judgment under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B).
With this understanding, Count II is not, in fact, a separate claim from Count III, which claims relief under ERISA. Count II is grounded in the same conduct giving rise to Count III and is based on the same statute. It is not a separate claim; it is merely a request for a different form of relief. For the sake of clarity, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), I find that Count II is subsumed by Count III.
I note that I would dismiss Count II if it were brought under either Pennsylvania's declaratory judgment act or the federal declaratory judgment act. Because the plan at issue is an ERISA plan, ERISA applies, preempting Pennsylvania's declaratory judgment act.
3. Counts VII-XV: State-Law Claims
Wolff brings nine state-law claims against Rawlings in the alternative to her ERISA claim against Rawlings in the event that this Court finds that Rawlings is not a proper defendant to that claim, an argument addressed infra. These claims are: conversion (Count VII), money had and received (Count VIII), intentional misrepresentation (Count IX), negligent misrepresentation (Count X), unjust enrichment (Count XI), theft by deception (Count XII), attempted theft (Count XIII), violation of Pennsylvania's unfair trade practices and consumer law (Count XIV), and violation of Pennsylvania's Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act (Count XV).
The Third Circuit has stated that claims of improper subrogation requests under state law are claims for benefits due under § 502(a)(1)(B).
That is the case here. Wolff's state-law claims are all based on the Defendants' alleged improper subrogation request. Because all of these claims arise from the same conduct giving rise to Wolff's benefits-due claim, they are preempted. I therefore dismiss Count VII,
B. ERISA Claims
Count III, Count IV, and Count V claim violations of ERISA.
1. Rawlings Is Not a Proper Defendant to Count III
Count III alleges a benefits-due claim under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) against both Aetna and Rawlings. Defendants move to dismiss Count III with respect to Rawlings on the basis that Rawlings is not a proper defendant to this claim because it is not the plan administrator.
The proper defendant in a § 502(a)(1)(B) claim is the plan itself or a person who controls the administration of benefits.
Wolff has not alleged that Rawlings possessed final authority over any decision involving the plan. In contrast, Wolff alleges that Aetna is the fiduciary of the plan and that Aetna "exercised discretionary authority, control or responsibility for administration or management of the Plan and management or disposition of [the] Plan within the meaning of ERISA."
Therefore, I find that Rawlings is not a proper party to Wolff's § 502(a)(1)(B) claim and dismiss Count III as to Rawlings only.
2. Count V: ERISA Relief
In Count V, Wolff alleges that Aetna violated its obligation under ERISA to disclose information and to avoid materially misleading its beneficiaries. Defendants move to strike Count V under Rule 12(f) on the basis that it is redundant with Count IV, which alleges breaches of Aetna's fiduciary duties.
Defendants are mistaken. Count IV alleges a breach of the duty of loyalty, whereas Count V alleges a failure to disclose. Although the duty to disclose rests in the fiduciary duties of loyalty and prudence, the Third Circuit has recognized that it is a specific, affirmative duty of its own.
3. Count IV and Count V: Monetary Damages
Defendants move to dismiss Wolff's requests for monetary damages in Counts IV and V on the ground that ERISA allows only for equitable, not legal, remedies. I deny that motion because the request for legal relief is not itself a claim.
C. Count I and Count VI Fail to State a Claim for Relief
Defendants move to dismiss Count I for failure to state a claim for relief.
Count I is labeled "State Law Rules of Decision." It alleges that Defendants violated 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 1720 by demanding subrogation.
Defendants are correct that § 1720 is not itself a cause of action.
Defendants also move to dismiss Count VI because it duplicates Count I and, as with Count I, fails to state a claim for relief. I agree that Count VI appears to duplicate Count I, except that Count VI adds class allegations. As noted above, § 1720 is not a cause of action. The allegations contained within Count VI pertain to Wolff's other claims, and so need not be dismissed. However, I will take the same approach to Count VI as I did with Count I and strike its label as a "Count" because it also does not state a claim for relief.
D. Extra-Contractual Bad Faith Damages and Jury Demand
Finally, Defendants move to dismiss Wolff's claim for extra-contractual bad faith damages and her demand for a jury trial. Defendants argue that the former are preempted by ERISA and that there is no entitlement to a jury trial under ERISA because it provides only for equitable relief.
With regard to the jury-trial demand, however, Wolff continues to request a jury trial for the state-law claims against Rawlings in Counts VII-XV. Because I dismiss those claims here, this request is denied as moot.
Wolff further asks this Court to empanel an advisory jury pursuant to Rule 39(c). Wolff's request is well taken, but premature. I decline to rule on that issue at this time.
For the reasons provided above, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 12) is
An appropriate Order follows.