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Yates v. Symetra Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 27, 2019

TERRI M. YATES, Plaintiff,
v.
SYMETRA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Symetra Life Insurance Company's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 5) and Plaintiff Terri M. Yates's Motion for Order Remanding this Case Back to the Circuit Court of Phelps County, Missouri (ECF No. 7). Defendant is opposed to the motion to remand, and that motion is fully briefed. Ms. Yates failed to submit a response within seven days in accordance with this district's local rules, see E.D.Mo. L.R. 4.01(B), and the time to do so has since passed.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Terri M. Yates originally filed this case in state court alleging she entered into a contract with Defendant to provide insurance coverage on her spouse, Johnny Ray Yates, to provide coverage on his life in the amount of $50, 000 if he were to die by accidental means. (Pet. ¶¶ 6 & 8, ECF No. 4) Ms. Yates states Mr. Yates died as the result of an accident on December 20, 2016 while the accidental spousal death benefit policy was in full force and effect. (Id. at ¶¶ 11 -12) Ms. Yates alleges Defendant has not paid the amount due to her in accordance with the policy, and she has sued for breach of contract. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-14) Defendant removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c), claiming Ms. Yates's claim is subject to and governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001, et seq. (ECF No. 1) Ms. Yates moves to remand the case to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A party may remove an action to federal court only if it could have been brought in federal court originally. Junk v. Terminix Int'l Co, 628 F.3d 439, 444 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)-(b)). In removal cases, the Court reviews the state court petition and the notice of removal in order to determine whether it has jurisdiction. Branch v. Wheaton Van Lines, Inc., No. 4:14CV01735 AGF, 2014 WL 6461372, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 17, 2014). "Where the defendant seeks to invoke federal jurisdiction through removal, ... it bears the burden of proving that the jurisdictional threshold is satisfied." Bell v. Hershey Co., 557 F.3d 953, 956 (8th Cir. 2009). "[A] case is ordinarily not removable on federal question grounds unless the federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiffs complaint." Kaufman v. Boone Ctr., Inc., No. 4:11CV286 CDP, 2011 WL 1564052, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 25, 2011). A plaintiff may move to remand the case if the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Junk, 628 F.3d at 444 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)). District courts are to resolve all doubts regarding federal jurisdiction in favor of remand. Hubbard v. Federated Mut. Ins. Co., 799 F.3d 1224, 1227 (8th Cir. 2015).

         DISCUSSION

         Ms. Yates argues the Court should remand the case because the benefit policy at issue is exempt from ERISA under the "safe harbor" provision promulgated by the Department of Labor. The so-called "safe harbor" provision, 29 C.F.R. § 2510.3-l(j), provides:

Certain group or group-type insurance programs. For purposes of title I of the Act and this chapter, the terms "employee welfare benefit plan" and "welfare plan" shall not include a group or group-type insurance program offered by an insurer to employees or members of an employee organization, under which
(1) No contributions are made by an employer or employee organization;
(2) Participation the program is completely voluntary for employees or members;
(3) The sole functions of the employer or employee organization with respect to the program are, without endorsing the program, to permit the insurer to publicize the program to employees or members, to collect premiums through payroll deductions or dues checkoffs and to remit them to the insurer; and
(4) The employer or employee organization receives no consideration in the form of cash or otherwise in connection with the program, other than reasonable compensation, excluding any profit, for administrative services actually rendered in connection with payroll deductions or dues checkoffs.

         According to Ms. Yates, the accidental spousal death benefit policy satisfies the first two requirements of the safe harbor provision because it was voluntary and she was the policyholder who made all contributions. Thus, she concludes the policy is not ...


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