appropriate only if the court has federal question jurisdiction over the
The general rule is that a plaintiff is the master of his own complaint
and can avoid federal question jurisdiction by pleading exclusively state
law claims. See Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392; Franchise Tax Bd. v.
Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 10 (1983);
Bastien v. AT&T Wireless Servs., Inc., 205 F.3d 983, 986 (7th Cir.
2000). Defendant argues that two exceptions to the well-pleaded complaint
rule apply in this case, making removal appropriate despite the fact that
plaintiffs' complaint alleges only state law claims.
One recognized exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule is the
"complete preemption" doctrine. This doctrine applies where "Congress has
so completely preempted a particular area that no room remains for any
state regulation and the complaint would be `necessarily federal in
character.'" Bastien, 205 F.3d at 986 (citing Metropolitan Life Ins. Co.
v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63-64 (1987)). Where this is the case, removal to
federal court is proper. See id. Complete preemption is to be
distinguished from "ordinary preemption" (or "partial preemption") in
which a federal law and a state law conflict, but Congress has not
clearly indicated that it intends to completely preempt the particular
area. In the typical ordinary preemption case, a defendant would raise a
federal law as a defense to plaintiffs' state law claim. In these
circumstances, the Supreme Court has clearly stated that federal question
jurisdiction does not exist under the well-pleaded complaint rule, making
removal improper. See Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393; Metropolitan Life,
481 U.S. at 63. Complete preemption, by contrast, is not only a defense,
but also provides a basis for federal jurisdiction, making removal
Determining whether a field is completely preempted has been described
as a two-part inquiry. First, Congress must have clearly manifested an
intent to preempt the field. Second, the court must also find that the
plaintiffs' claims fit within the "civil enforcement provisions" provided
by the federal statute. Goepel v. National Postal Mail Handlers Union,
36 F.3d 306, 311 (3d Cir. 1994) (relying on a comparison of Metropolitan
Life and Franchise Tax Bd.); see also Moran v. Rush Prudential HMO,
Inc., 230 F.3d 959, 967 (7th Cir. 2000) (in ERISA case, plaintiffs'
claims are completely preempted only if they fall within the scope of an
ERISA provision that plaintiff can enforce). In this case, the court
finds that Congress has clearly manifested an intent that FEHBA
completely preempt certain state law causes of action in the area of
federal employee benefit plans. The court, however, concludes that the
civil enforcement provisions of the FEHBA do not protect the same
interests that plaintiffs seek to vindicate through their state law
To date, the Supreme Court has found two federal laws that completely
preempt certain state causes of action: the Labor Management Relations Act
(LMRA), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Prior to
1998, most lower courts addressing the issue determined that the FEHBA
did not completely preempt state law in the area of health benefits for
federal employees. See Ramirez v. Humana, Inc., 119 F. Supp.2d 1307, 1310
(M.D. Fla. 2000) (providing examples). Since Congress amended the FEHBA
in 1998, however, the majority of courts addressing the issue have
concluded that Congress has now clearly manifested
an intent to preempt
state law regarding the FEHBA plans.
Prior to 1998, the preemption provision of FEHBA read:
The provisions of any contract under this chapter
which relate to the nature or extent of coverage or
benefits (including payments with respect to benefits)
shall supersede and preempt any State or local law, or
any regulation issued thereunder, which relates to
health insurance or plans to the extent that such law
or regulation is inconsistent with such contractual
Goepel, 36 F.3d at 312 (quoting pre-1998 language and finding that it did
not completely preempt state law). The courts concluding, prior to 1998,
that the FEHBA did not completely preempt state law frequently relied on
the last, limiting phrase of this provision: "to the extent that such law
or regulation is inconsistent with such contractual provisions." These
courts often compared this restrictive language to the broader preemptive
provisions of ERISA. See, e.g., Goepel, 36 F.3d at 312-13 & n.7; Cyr v.
Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Texas, 12 F. Supp.2d 556, 567-68 (N.D.
Tex. 1998); Arnold v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Texas, Inc.,
973 F. Supp. 726, 732 (S.D. Tex. 1997); see also Sarkis v. Heimburger,
933 F. Supp. 828, 831 (E.D. Mo. 1996); Lambert v. Mail Handlers Benefit
Plan, 886 F. Supp. 830, 835-36 (M.D. Ala. 1995).
In 1998, however, Congress broadened the preemption provision, which
The terms of any contract under this chapter which
relate to the nature, provision, or extent of coverage
or benefits (including payments with respect to
benefits) shall supersede and preempt any State or
local law, or any regulation issued thereunder, which
relates to health insurance or plans.
5 U.S.C. § 8902(m)(1). The House Report sheds some light on the
purpose of the 1998 amendment: