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Lee v. Lincoln National Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Waterloo Division

October 31, 2018

VANESSA LEE, Individually and as Executor of the Estate of John Lee, Plaintiffs,



         The matters before the Court are defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Petition at Law (Doc. 9), plaintiff's[1] motion for leave to amend her petition (Doc. 13, at 6-7), and Defendant's Unopposed Motion to Extend the Deadline to Submit a Scheduling Report (Doc. 16). For the following reasons, defendant's motion to dismiss is granted, plaintiff's motion to amend is granted, and defendant's motion to extend is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 19, 2018, plaintiff filed her First Amended Petition at Law (“the petition” or “petition”) in the Iowa District Court for Fayette County, Iowa. (Doc. 4). Plaintiff alleges that her husband, John Lee, passed away on July 19, 2015, as the result of an ATV accident. (Id., at ¶¶ 4, 9-14). Plaintiff claims that at all relevant times, Mr. Lee was an employee of Ashley Industrial Moldings, Inc. (“Ashley”), and that Mr. Lee was covered by an accidental death policy that defendant sold to Ashley (the “Policy”). (Id., at ¶¶ 3-5). Defendant asserts that it issued the Policy pursuant to Ashley's Life Benefit Plan (the “Plan”). (Doc. 9-1, at 2). Plaintiff attached a copy of the Policy to the Petition and incorporated it by reference. (Docs. 4, at ¶ 17; 4-1). The Policy is a “Group Insurance Policy” issued by defendant to Ashley. (Doc. 4-1, at 1-4). Plaintiff asserts that she is Mr. Lee's named beneficiary for accidental death benefits under the Policy and that defendant has denied paying plaintiff accidental death benefits under the Policy. (Doc. 4, at ¶¶ 7, 20). Plaintiff's petition asserts a single count against defendant for breach of contract. (Doc 4).

         On August 30, 2018, defendant timely removed this case to this Court based on both federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction (see Docs. 1, at 2-3; 1-2, at 43). 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331-32, 1446(b)(1). Defendant then filed its motion seeking dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 9). Defendant argues that plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because plaintiff's state-law breach of contract claim is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001, et seq. (Doc. 9). In plaintiff's motion to extend the time to resist defendant's motion to dismiss, plaintiff stated “it is admitted that the policy was issued as a part of a [sic] ERISA Plan . . ..” (Doc. 11, ¶6). In her resistance, plaintiff argues that her claim is only a claim for breach of contract, not an ERISA claim, and, accordingly, plaintiff asserts that her breach of contract claim is not preempted. (Doc. 13, at 1-6). Plaintiff requests, in the alternative to the Court denying defendant's motion to dismiss, that the Court grant plaintiff leave to amend the petition “to satisfy the ERISA requirements.” (Doc. 13, at 7). On October 29, 2018, defendant filed an unopposed motion to extend the deadline for the parties to file their scheduling order and discovery plan. (Doc. 16).


         A. Applicable Law

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Prior to filing an answer, a defendant may move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible on its face when the facts set forth in the complaint are sufficient for the Court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the conduct alleged. Id.

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party and accepts all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true. Richter v. Advance Auto Parts, Inc., 686 F.3d 847, 850 (8th Cir. 2012). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court may consider, in addition to the face of the complaint, “‘matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to the complaint whose authenticity is unquestioned;' without converting the motion into one for summary judgment.” Miller v. Redwood Toxicology Lab., Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 931 n.3 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (3d ed. 2004)). The Court may also consider materials that are outside the complaint, but do not contradict the complaint, without converting a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Id.; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 269 n.1 (1986) (holding that the Supreme Court would consider historical documentation outside of the complaint where the facts in the documents were not disputed by the parties, but the parties disagreed as to the legal significance of the facts).

         B. Discussion

         Defendant argues that plaintiff's sole claim for breach of contract claim is preempted by ERISA, and, accordingly, the petition fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. 9-1, at 3-6). To determine if a claim is preempted by ERISA the Court must determine if the plan at issue is governed by ERISA, and if so, determine if the plaintiff's particular claim is preempted by ERISA. See Van Natta v. Sara Lee Corp., 439 F.Supp.2d 911, 921-35 (N.D. Iowa 2006).

         This Court has outlined ERISA's preemptive force as follows:

Essentially, there are two components to ERISA's extensive preemptive force. First, ERISA § 514(a) expressly preempts all state laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan . . .. 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). . .. Second, ERISA § 502(a) contains a comprehensive scheme of civil remedies to enforce ERISA's provisions. See 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a). The preemptive force of this ERISA subsection likewise casts a broad net. A state cause of action that would fall within the scope of this remedial scheme is preempted as conflicting with the intended exclusivity of the remedies provided for by ERISA's remedial scheme, even if those causes of action would not necessarily be preempted by section 514(a).

Van Natta, 439 F.Supp.2d at 924-25 (internal citations omitted). Preemption under Section 514(a) is known as “express preemption” and preemption under Section 502(a) is known as “complete preemption.” Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Nat'l ...

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