United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
A. FITZWATER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
motion to remand presents the question whether this action
was removable based on complete preemption under
ERISA. Concluding that defendants have failed to
establish that any of plaintiff's state-law claims is
completely preempted, the court grants plaintiff's motion
and remands this case to state court.
Maria Rojas (“Rojas'”) is employed by
defendant Renfro Industries, Inc. (“Renfro”).
Renfro did not provide Rojas with worker's compensation
insurance. Instead, Renfro offered an “Employee Injury
Benefit Plan” (“the Plan”) created under
ERISA. Am. Pet. ¶ 4.06. To participate in the Plan,
Rojas was required to sign an “Election and Arbitration
Agreement” (“Arbitration Agreement”) that
provided that any dispute be resolved by binding arbitration
before an arbitrator appointed by defendant DSI Dispute
Solutions, Inc. (“DSI”). Am. Pet. ¶ ¶
4.06-07. According to Rojas' state-court first amended
original petition (“Amended Petition”), DSI
and/or defendant Essential Corporate Solutions, Inc.
(“ECS”) hired Gary Sarles, Esquire
(“Sarles”) to draft the Arbitration Agreement.
Sarles also represents Renfro as defense counsel when it is
injured herself on the job while operating a press machine.
She alleges that the machine “was without a guard or
any effective guarding pursuant to industry and safety
regulations.” Am. Pet. ¶ 4.04. Rojas sued
defendants in state court, asserting claims of negligence,
gross negligence, fraud by nondisclosure, fraudulent
inducement, and civil conspiracy. Rojas also requested an
injunction prohibiting DSI from arbitrating any claim between
Rojas and Renfro.
removed the case to this court, asserting that Rojas'
claims for fraud by nondisclosure, fraudulent inducement, and
civil conspiracy, and her request for an injunction, are
completely preempted by ERISA. Rojas moves to remand,
contending that ERISA does not apply and that the court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants oppose the motion.
removing parties, defendants “[have] the burden of
overcoming an initial presumption against jurisdiction and
establishing that removal is proper.” Carnes v.
Data Return, LLC, 2005 WL 265167, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Feb.
1, 2005) (Fitzwater, J.) (citing Howery v. Allstate Ins.
Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001)). “In
general, defendants may remove a civil action if a federal
court would have had original jurisdiction.” De
Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir.
1995) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)). “Due regard
for the rightful independence of state governments, which
should actuate federal courts, requires that they
scrupulously confine their own jurisdiction to the precise
limits which (a federal) statute has defined.”
Victory Carriers, Inc. v. Law, 404 U.S. 202, 212
(1971) (quoting Healy v. Ratta, 292 U.S. 263, 270
(1934)). “The federal removal statute, 28 U.S.C. §
1441 (1997), is subject to strict construction because a
defendant's use of that statute deprives a state court of
a case properly before it and thereby implicates important
federalism concerns.” Frank v. Bear
Stearns & Co., 128 F.3d 919, 922 (5th Cir. 1997)
(citing Carpenter v. Wichita Falls Indep. Sch.
Dist., 44 F.3d 362, 365 (5th Cir. 1995)).
“[D]oubts regarding whether removal jurisdiction is
proper should be resolved against federal
jurisdiction.” Acuna v. Brown & Root
Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2000).
“[r]emoval is not possible unless the plaintiff's
‘well pleaded complaint' raises issues of federal
law sufficient to support federal question
jurisdiction.” Rodriguez v. Pacificare of Tex.,
Inc., 980 F.2d 1014, 1017 (5th Cir. 1993) (citing
Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co. v.
Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908)). “There is an
exception, however, to the well-pleaded complaint
rule.” Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S.
200, 207 (2004).
“[W]hen a federal statute wholly displaces the
state-law cause of action through complete pre-emption,
” the state claim can be removed. This is so because
“[w]hen the federal statute completely pre-empts the
state-law cause of action, a claim which comes within the
scope of that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms of
state law, is in reality based on federal law.”
Id. at 207-08 (alterations in original) (quoting
Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8
(2003)). Thus because Rojas' Amended Petition does not
assert claims under federal law, and because defendants do
not contend that the court has diversity jurisdiction,
defendants can establish removal jurisdiction only if ERISA
completely preempts one or more of Rojas' state-law
claims. See, e.g., Westfall v. Bevan, 2009
WL 111577, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 15, 2009) (Fitzwater, C.J.).
preemption is available under ERISA § 502, the
statute's civil-enforcement provision, which
“Congress intended to be the exclusive vehicle for
suits by a beneficiary to recover benefits from a covered
plan.” Mem'l Hosp. Sys. v. Northbrook Life Ins.
Co., 904 F.2d 236, 250 (5th Cir. 1990); see also,
e.g., Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S.
58, 66 (1987) (“Congress has clearly manifested an
intent to make causes of action within the scope of the civil
enforcement provisions of § 502(a) removable to federal
court.”). “Section 502, by providing a civil
enforcement cause of action, completely preempts any state
cause of action seeking the same relief, regardless of how
artfully pleaded as a state action.” McGowin v.
ManPower Int'l, Inc., 363 F.3d 556, 559 (5th Cir.
2004) (quoting Giles v. NYLCare Health Plans, Inc.,
172 F.3d 332, 337 (5th Cir. 1999)). “A state-law claim
that is completely preempted under § 502 is transformed
into a new federal claim.” Cardona v. Life Ins. Co.
of N. Am., 2009 WL 3199217, at *4 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 7,
2009) (Fitzwater, C.J.). In other words, complete preemption
“eliminates the state-law claim” and
“replaces [it] with a federal claim.”
Id. “‘Because they are recast as federal
claims, ' state-law claims that are completely preempted
provide a basis for removal.” Westfall, 2009
WL 111577, at *3 (quoting McLaren v. RailAmerica,
Inc., 2001 WL 366431, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 21, 2001)
maintains that this case should be remanded because none of
her claims is completely preempted by ERISA. Defendants
contend that Rojas' claims for fraud by nondisclosure and
fraudulent inducement, and a derivative claim for civil
conspiracy, are preempted by § ...