The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jerome B. Simandle, United States District Judge.
This matter is presently before the Court on plaintiff's motion to
remand this action to state court [Docket Item 13-1], based on a lack of
federal jurisdiction. Also pending before this Court is defendants'
motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Complaints [Docket Item 13-1], which will
be addressed, if necessary, in a later Opinion, if this Court determines
that federal question jurisdiction exists over plaintiffs' complaints
under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974,
29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. ("ERISA"). On January 28, 2002, this Court
consolidated six cases*fn1 for the purpose of deciding the remand and,
if necessary, the dismissal motions currently pending. Oral argument was
heard on the remand issue on January 25, 2002 and April 4, 2002.
The specific issue presented by this remand motion is whether
plaintiffs' state law unjust enrichment claims against their healthcare
insurers, which allege that the subrogation clauses in their employee
benefit health care contracts were made void and unenforceable by the New
Jersey Supreme Court's decision in Perreira v. Rediger, 169 N.J. 399,
778 A.2d 429 (2001), are within federal court jurisdiction under Section
502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974,
29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. ("ERISA"), and therefore properly removed
by the defendants to federal court. Essentially, this Court must
determine whether the monies plaintiffs now seek, that is the monies paid
back to the defendants from plaintiffs' tort recoveries pursuant to the
subrogation provisions in their ERISA plans, are "benefits due" under
those plans, within the meaning of Section 502(a)(1)(B). Plaintiffs
assert that the defendants have no valid right to subrogation from
plaintiffs' tort recoveries under New Jersey law, and that the defendants'
enforcement of the health care plans' subrogation provisions amounted to
the unjust enrichment of the defendants contrary to New Jersey law.
It must be acknowledged that this case presents a conceptually unclear
area of law. Plaintiffs' motion to remand this action to state court
requires this Court to determine whether there is federal removal
jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims of unjust enrichment, originally
filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County. To make that
decision this Court must determine whether plaintiffs' claims fall within
the purview of ERISA's civil enforcement provision, Section
502(a)(1)(B), and therefore whether plaintiffs' unjust enrichment claims
are completely preempted by federal law.*fn2 The second, defendants'
motion to dismiss, which will be addressed in a separate opinion only
after federal jurisdiction is established, requires the Court to decide
whether plaintiffs' state common law unjust enrichment claims must be
dismissed as completely preempted under Section 502(a)(1)(B) or,
alternatively, whether the claims are preempted as conflicting under
Plaintiffs' Complaints allege only state law unjust enrichment claims,
and plaintiffs assert that their cases must be remanded to state court
for adjudication under New Jersey law, since no federal question
jurisdiction exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, no federal diversity
jurisdiction exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and therefore no basis
for removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 exists. Defendants argue that the
cases were properly removed to federal court because plaintiffs are ERISA
plan "participant[s] or beneficiar[ies]" who are seeking "to recover
benefits due to [them] under the terms of [their] plan, [or] to enforce
[their] rights under the terms of the plan" and therefore their unjust
enrichment claims are completely preempted by the civil enforcement
provision of ERISA.
The "Well-Pleaded Complaint" Rule
The Supreme Court in Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Construction Laborers
Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 9-10, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d
420 (1983), held that "where there is no diversity of citizenship between
the parties . . . the propriety of removal turns on whether the case
falls within the original `federal question' jurisdiction
of the United
States District Courts." See Pryzbowski v. U.S. Healthcare, Inc.,
245 F.3d 266, 271 (3d Cir. 2001). Defendants do not contest that there is
no diversity of citizenship between the parties in these consolidated
The "well-pleaded complaint" rule provides that federal question
jurisdiction exists only when an issue of federal law appears on the face
of the complaint. See Pryzbowski, 245 F.3d at 271. Anticipation of a
federal defense by the defendant does not create federal jurisdiction.
See id. Complete preemption, an exception to the "well-pleaded
complaint" rule, occurs when Congress so pervasively occupies a
particular field (here, benefit enforcement claims under ERISA) that "any
complaint that comes within the scope of [a] federal cause of action
necessarily `arises under' federal law," and is completely preempted.
Pryzbowski, 245 F.3d at 271 (quoting Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 24,
103 S.Ct. 2841). The United States Supreme Court, in Metropolitan Life
Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 107 S.Ct. 1542, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987),
held that Congress had intended that Section 502(a) of ERISA should have
extraordinary preemptive force and that "causes of action within the
scope of the civil enforcement provisions of § 502(a) [are] removable
to federal court." Metropolitan Life, 481 U.S. at 66, 107 S.Ct. at 1542.
Essentially, complete preemption functions to recharacterize plaintiffs'
state law claims into federal claims for the purpose of removal, thereby
creating federal removal jurisdiction.
Complete Preemption of Claims Against HMOs Under Section
502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA
Section 502(a)(1)(B) provides, in relevant part:
(a) Persons Empowered to Bring Civil Action. —
A civil action may ...