United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
DALTON JR., JUDGE
instant motion, Plaintiffs move for remand. (Doc. 18
(“Motion”).) Defendant responded
on August 3, 2017. (Doc. 26
(“Response”).) The Court then
permitted: (1) Plaintiffs to file a reply (Doc. 32); and
Defendant to file a sur-reply (Doc. 34). For the reasons set
forth below, the Motion is due to be denied.
brought this action seeking medical benefits under a group
health insurance policy that Defendant United Healthcare
Insurance Company (“UHIC”)
issued to Constant Innovation, LLC (“Constant
LLC”). Importantly, Plaintiff Andre Raab and
his wife, Nancy Raab, are the co-owners of Constant LLC.
(Doc. 18-1, ¶ 2.)
LLC first applied for a group health insurance policy with
UHIC on October 6, 2008. (See Doc.
26-3.) On the application form, it specified that three
full-time employees would be participating in the plan. (Doc.
26-3, p. 2.) Based on this application, UHIC issued a group
health insurance policy-Group No. GA759799BW
(“the Policy”)- to Constant LLC
with an effective date of January 1, 2009.
the original Policy, Andre Raab was enrolled for family
coverage with his wife, and two non-owner employees were also
enrolled for coverage. (Doc. 26-1, ¶ 5.) Thereafter, in
2010, two additional non-owner employees enrolled for
coverage under the Policy. (Id. ¶ 6.) Coverage
for all of the individuals under the Policy, other than Andre
Raab, terminated on January 1, 2011.
(Id. ¶ 7; Doc. 32, ¶ 18.) At that point,
the Policy was updated to cover only Andre Raab, Nancy Raab,
and their children. (Doc. 26-1, ¶ 7; Doc. 32, ¶
18.) Indeed, in 2014, the sole participants in the Policy
were Andre Raab and Nancy Raab. (Doc. 18-1, ¶ 4.) Their
daughter, Plaintiff Laura Raab, was a beneficiary of the
Policy. (Id.) The Policy was terminated on
January 1, 2015. (Doc. 26-1, ¶ 8.)
2015, Andre Raab submitted a claim under the Policy for Laura
Raab's medical expenses during 2014. (Doc. 2,
¶¶ 5-6.) UHIC ultimately denied the claim.
(Id. ¶ 14.) Based on this denial, Plaintiffs
filed suit in the Circuit Court of the Eighteenth Judicial
Circuit in and for Seminole County, Florida, on April
12, 2017, alleging claims for breach of contract and
statutory bad faith. (Id. ¶¶ 20-27.) UHIC
removed the case to this Court on June 8,
2017, on the ground that Plaintiffs claims were
preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of
1974 (“ERISA”). (Doc. 1, ¶
7.) Plaintiffs now seek to remand the case, arguing that
ERISA is inapplicable to the Policy. (Doc. 18, at p. 6.)
a motion to remand, the removing party bears the burden of
establishing jurisdiction.” Diaz v. Sheppard,
85 F.3d 1502, 1505 (11th Cir. 1996). Any doubts about removal
jurisdiction should be construed in favor of remand to state
court. Id. Where a case is removed on the basis of
federal question jurisdiction, the applicable federal claim
must appear on the face of the plaintiff's well-pleaded
complaint. Ervast v. Flexible Prod. Co., 346 F.3d
1007, 1012 (11th Cir. 2003). An exception to this rule,
however, is the doctrine of complete preemption. Id.
“If a federal statute completely preempts a
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.” May
v. Lakeland Reg'l Med. Ctr., No.
8:09-cv-406-T-33AEP, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5866, *6 (M.D.
Fla. Jan. 5, 2010) (citing Aetna Health Inc. v.
Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 207-08 (2004)). So
“‘when a federal statute wholly displaces the
state-law cause of action through complete pre-emption, the
state claim can be removed.'” Id. (citing
Aetna Health Inc., 542 U.S. at 207). ERISA
completely preempts state law claims involving rights to
recover benefits under employee benefit plans.
Ervast, 346 F.3d 1007, 1014 (11th Cir. 2003).
preliminary matter, the Court finds that it is proper to
consider post-removal evidence relied on by UHIC in its
Response-inclusive of information regarding the Policy as it
stood when it was initially issued in 2009. In their reply,
Plaintiffs argue that UHIC should be constrained to the
allegations in its Notice of Removal. (Doc. 32, ¶¶
7- 10.) But the Eleventh Circuit has “adopt[ed] a more
flexible approach, allowing the district court when necessary
to consider post-removal evidence in assessing removal
jurisdiction.” Sierminski v. Transouth Fin.
Corp., 216 F.3d 945, 949 (11th Cir. 2000). “While
it is undoubtedly best to include all relevant evidence in
the petition for removal and motion to remand, there is no
good reason to keep a district court from eliciting or
reviewing evidence outside the removal petition.”
Id. Still, “under any manner of proof, the
jurisdictional facts that support removal must be judged at
the time of the removal, and any post-petition affidavits are
allowable only if relevant to that period of time.”
Id. (quoting Allen v. R&H Oil Co., 63
F.3d 1326, 1335 (5th Cir. 1995)). Moreover, UHIC's
post-removal evidence “does not state completely new
grounds or allegations for removal, but rather provides
specific support for the grounds for removal that already
were stated in its Notice of Removal.” May,
2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5866, *7-8 (finding it proper to
consider post-removal evidence with respect to complete
preemption under ERISA). Accordingly, the Court will consider
UHIC's post-removal evidence relevant to assessing the
existence of jurisdiction at the time of the removal.
Safe Harbor Provision
determining whether an employee benefit plan is governed by
ERISA, the court must examine whether it falls within the
regulatory “safe harbor” provision. Miller v.
Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., No.
6:13-CV-825-ORL-36KRS, 2013 WL 4855056, at *4 (M.D. Fla.
Sept. 11, 2013). Pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § ...