United States District Court, D. Nebraska
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Smith Camp Chief United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on the Partial Motion to Dismiss,
ECF No. 22, filed by Defendant Prudential Insurance Company
of America (“Prudential”). For the reasons stated
below, the Motion will be granted.
following facts are those alleged in the Amended Complaint,
ECF No. 19, and assumed true for purposes of the Motion to
Dismiss. Richard Sake, husband to Plaintiff Ruth Sake, was
killed in a motor vehicle accident on March 10, 2015.
Id. ¶¶ 1 & 7, Page ID 209 & 210.
At the time of the accident, Richard Sake had an insurance
policy that included Accidental Death Benefits. Id.
¶ 4, Page ID 210. The policy was issued through Richard
Sake's employer, Diesel Power Equipment Company, and
insured by Prudential. Id. Ruth Sake was the
beneficiary of the insurance policy. Id. ¶ 5,
Page ID 210.
about March 17, 2015, Ruth Sake submitted a claim to
Prudential for the Accidental Death Benefits in an amount
totaling $25, 000. Id. ¶ 8, Page ID 210.
Prudential denied the claim on May 4, 2015. Id. On
May 6, 2016, Ruth Sake filed an action against Prudential in
the District Court of Douglas County, Nebraska, seeking the
denied benefits. See ECF No. 1-1, Page ID 10-12.
Prudential removed the action to this Court on September 8,
2016, pursuant to Sections 1331, 1441, and 1146 of the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA”). ECF No. 1, Page ID 1-5. Ruth Sake
amended her Complaint on November 29, 2016, asserting two
claims: Claim I for breach of contract and Claim II for
“Bad Faith” and a “breach of good faith and
fair dealing.” ECF No. 19, Page ID 210-11. Both claims
sought “general” and “special”
damages, as well as other relief. Id. Prudential
filed its Partial Motion to Dismiss on December 16, 2016,
seeking dismissal of Ruth Sake's claim for breach of good
faith, and her request for special damages under both Claims
I & II. See ECF No. 22. Ruth Sake did not
respond to the Motion.
complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To satisfy this
requirement, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Corrado v. Life Inv'rs Ins. Co. of Am., 804 F.3d
915, 917 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Barton v. Taber, 820 F.3d 958, 964 (8th Cir. 2016)
(quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do
not suffice.” Zink v. Lombardi, 783 F.3d 1089,
1098 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 2941 (2015). The
complaint's factual allegations must be “sufficient
to ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.'” McDonough v. Anoka Cty., 799 F.3d
931, 946 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 555). The Court must accept factual allegations as true,
but it is not required to accept any “legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation.” Brown v. Green
Tree Servicing LLC, 820 F.3d 371, 373 (8th Cir. 2016)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Thus, “[a]
pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or
‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do.'” Ash v. Anderson
Merchandisers, LLC, 799 F.3d 957, 960 (8th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678), cert.
denied, 136 S.Ct. 804 (2016).
motion to dismiss, courts must rule “on the assumption
that all the allegations in the complaint are true, ”
and “a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it
strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is
improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and
unlikely.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 &
556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236
(1974)). “Determining whether a complaint states a
plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task
that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.” Mickelson v. Cty. of
Ramsey, 823 F.3d 918, 923 (8th Cir. 2016) (alternation
in original) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
argues that Claim II should be dismissed because if it is
construed under state law, the claim is preempted, and if it
is construed as a federal claim for breach of fiduciary duty,
it is not actionable under ERISA. Claim II does not cite any
specific state or federal laws that underlie its allegations
of bad faith and breach of the duty of good faith and fair
dealing. Prudential concedes that Claim I effectively states
a claim for denial of benefits under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §
1132(a)(1)(B). Thus, the only question is whether Claim
II is preempted.
preempts state law insofar as it “relate[s] to any
employee benefit plan . . . .” 29 U.S.C. §
1144(a). “[T]he ERISA civil enforcement mechanism is
one of those provisions with such ‘extraordinary
pre-emptive power' that it ‘converts an ordinary
state common law complaint into one stating a federal claim
for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule.'”
Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 209
(2004) (quoting Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481
U.S. 58, 65-66 (1987)). “Therefore, any state-law cause
of action that duplicates, supplements, or supplants the
ERISA civil enforcement remedy conflicts with the clear
congressional intent to make the ERISA remedy exclusive and
is therefore pre-empted.” Davila, 542 U.S. at
209 (citing Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. McClendon, 498
U.S. 133, 143-45 (1990); Pilot Life Ins. Co. v.
Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41, 54-56 (1987)).
determine whether a state law claim is preempted under ERISA,
courts consider three factors: “(1) was the plan at
issue an ‘employee benefit plan, ' (2) if so, does
the plan fall under ERISA's safe harbor exemption, and
(3) if not, are [the plaintiff's] claims preempted by
ERISA?” Ibson v. United Healthcare Servs.,
Inc., 776 F.3d 941, 944 (8th Cir. 2014), cert.
denied, 135 S.Ct. 2351 (2015). To determine whether a
cause of action falls “within the scope” of ERISA
preemption, courts must examine the complaint, the law upon
which the claim is based, and the relevant plan documents.
Davila, 542 U.S. at 211.
parties agree that the insurance policy at issue qualifies as
an ERISA plan, and there appears to be no contention that the
policy falls under ERISA's safe harbor
provision. The Amended Complaint alleges that
Prudential failed to pay the benefits due to Ruth Sake. In
Davila, the Supreme Court held that the
plaintiff's claim was preempted because “the only
action complained of” was the failure of an ERISA plan
administrator to pay benefits under the ERISA plan. 542 U.S.
at 211. Similarly, the Eighth Circuit held in Ibson
that state-law claims for breach of contract, negligence, and
bad faith were preempted by ERISA where the essence of the
plaintiff's claim was that a plan administrator should
have paid benefits under an ERISA plan but failed to do so.
776 F.3d at 945. Such is the case here. Consequently, Claim
II is preempted.
result would be the same even if the Court were to construe
Claim II as a breach of fiduciary duty claim under 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(a)(3). “Where a plaintiff is provided
adequate relief by the right to bring a claim for benefits
under § 1132(a)(1)(B), the plaintiff does not have a
cause of action to seek the same remedy under §
1132(a)(3)(B).” Pilger v. Sweeney, 725 F.3d
922, 927 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Antolik v. Saks,
Inc., 463 F.3d 796, 803 (8th Cir. 2006)); see Varity
Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489, 515 (1996). ...