ERISA-Sixth Circuit Affirms Removal Of Claims On The Basis Of ERISA’s Complete Preemption Rule

In Hogan v. Jacobson, No. 15-5572 (6th Cir. 2016),  Violet Hogan (“Hogan”) had sued the Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) for violating the ERISA, by denying her claim for benefits under a disability-insurance policy (offered under a plan subject to ERISA). After losing that case, Hogan appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”), which later affirmed the grant of judgment against her. While that appeal was still pending at the Court, Hogan filed the present case in the Jefferson County Circuit Court against Jo Ellen Jacobson (“Jacobson”) and Kem Alan Lockhart (“Lockhart”), two nurses who worked for LINA and who had provided opinions regarding Hogan’s eligibility for disability benefits after reviewing her claim.

Hogan carefully pleaded her claims in the second suit to avoid reference to LINA or ERISA, alleging only that Jacobson and Lockhart committed negligence per se by giving medical advice without being licensed under Kentucky’s medical-licensure laws. The defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of ERISA’s complete-preemptive rule, and the district court then denied Hogan’s attempts to remand the case to state court and later granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Upon reviewing the second case, the Court said that, because Hogan’s artfully pleaded state-law claims are, at bottom, claims for the wrongful denial of benefits under an ERISA plan that arise solely from the relationship created by that ERISA plan, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) affirms the denial of Hogan’s motion to remand. Further, finding that Hogan’s second claim for benefits is virtually identical to her first and suffers from the same infirmities, and that her new claim under a different portion of ERISA fails to state anything beyond conclusory allegations, the Court affirms the grant of the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

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