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Central States, Southeast & Southwest Areas Health and Welfare Fund v. Student Assurance Services, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 10, 2015

Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Health and Welfare Fund, an Employee Welfare Benefit Plan; Arthur H. Bunte, Jr., a Trustee thereof, in his representative capacity, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
v.
Student Assurance Services, Inc.; Columbian Life Insurance Company; Security Life Insurance Company of America, Defendants - Appellees

Submitted March 11, 2015

Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis.

For Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Health and Welfare Fund, an Employee Welfare Benefit Plan, Arthur H. Bunte, Jr., a Trustee thereof, in his representative capacity, Plaintiffs - Appellants: Richard Bruce Allyn, Robins & Kaplan, Minneapolis, MN; Francis J. Carey, Supervisory Attorney, Central States Health & Welfare Fund, Rosemont, IL; Emily Eileen Gleason, Central States Pension Fund, Law Department, Rosemont, IL; Timothy Craig Reuter, Associate General Counsel, Central States Pension Fund, S.E. & S.W. Areas, Law Department, Rosemont, IL.

For Student Assurance Services, Inc., Columbian Life Insurance Company, Security Life Insurance Company of America, Defendants - Appellees: Sarah E. Crippen, John Thomas Sullivan, Best & Flanagan, Minneapolis, MN.

Before WOLLMAN, BEAM, and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 513

COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

This appeal arises out of an insurance coverage dispute between Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Health and Welfare Fund, an ERISA plan, and two insurance companies, Columbian Life Insurance Company and Security Life Insurance Company of America. In essence, both sides contend that the other bears primary responsibility to cover medical expenses incurred by their common insureds. Central States brought suit to enforce the terms of its plan under § 502(a)(3) of ERISA. The district court[1] dismissed the complaint because the relief sought by Central States was legal rather than equitable. Agreeing with several other circuits that have addressed the same legal argument of Central States, we affirm.

Central States, a multi-employer trust fund governed by ERISA, provides health and welfare benefits to participants in the teamster industry and their dependants.

Page 514

Columbian Life and Security Life are insurance companies that sell, among other things, medical insurance for accidents suffered by students. Student Assurance Services processed claims for policies issued by Columbian Life and Security Life. For purposes of this opinion, we refer to these three entities collectively as " Student Assurance."

Central States's complaint identifies thirteen junior high, high school, and college student-athletes who were covered dependants under its plan. These students also were covered under policies issued by Student Assurance. After the students sustained athletic injuries, Central States paid the students' medical expenses and sought reimbursement from Student Assurance. Student Assurance refused to pay. In total, Central States paid $137,204.88 in benefits. Central States alleges that according to the coordination of benefits provision of its plan, the student accident policies supply primary coverage for the students' covered medical expenses. Student Assurance insists, however, that the student accident policies are excess policies, and that they are not obligated to pay until Central States has reached the maximum contribution under its plan.

Central States sued, invoking federal common law and § 502(a)(3) of ERISA. The complaint includes claims for declaratory relief, restitution, and the imposition of an equitable lien and constructive trust to secure reimbursement for the benefits paid on behalf of the common insureds. Student Assurance moved to dismiss on the ground that Central States's claims, while ostensibly seeking equitable remedies, were actually for legal relief that is unavailable under § 502(a)(3). See Great-West Life & Annuity Ins. Co. v. Knudson, 534 U.S. 204, 122 S.Ct. 708, 151 L.Ed.2d 635 (2002). The district court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint.

We are the fifth circuit to consider substantially identical claims brought by Central States against insurance providers who are not governed by ERISA. Central States seeks to employ § 502(a)(3) to enforce its coordination of benefits provision against other insurers. In response, the insurers have argued that Knudson forecloses the claims, because Central States requests legal, not equitable, relief. Four circuits have agreed with the insurers and held that Central States's claims are not permitted under § 502(a)(3). See Central States, Se. & Sw. Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. Gerber Life Ins. Co., 771 F.3d 150 (2d Cir. 2014); Central States, Se. & Sw. Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. Bollinger, Inc., 573 F.App'x 197 (3d Cir. 2014); Central States, Se. & Sw. ...


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