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Wagner v. Alcoa Inc.

October 4, 2006

STEVEN S. WAGNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALCOA INC., ALCOA FLEXIBLE PACKAGING, INC., PLASTOFILM INDUSTRIES, INC., ELIZABETH A. FESSENDEN, DENNIS R. JACKSON AND JEFF SWOYER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Plaintiff Steven Wagner to remand this case to the Circuit Court of DuPage County. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted. In light of this disposition, Defendant Jeff Swoyer's motion to dismiss is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

BACKGROUND

According to the complaint, Wagner is a former employee of Defendant Alcoa, Inc. ("Alcoa"). His tenure with Alcoa spanned 23 years; in the spring of 2004 Wagner began to explore other employment opportunities with Alcoa affiliates. He alleges that he was led to believe that he would retain the same compensation level and benefit package he enjoyed at Alcoa if he accepted a job with an affiliate. One of the positions he considered was with Defendant Alcoa Flexible Packaging, LLC ("AFP"), an Alcoa affiliate. In June 2004, after several conversations with Defendants Dennis Jackson, Elizabeth Fessenden, and Swoyer, Wagner accepted the job with AFP. He was fired from the position in November of the same year by Jackson and Swoyer.

Wagner alleges that in January 2005, he discovered that the entity who had been employing him was not AFP but Plastofilm Industries, Inc. ("Plastofilm"), a company that was not affiliated with Alcoa. When he moved outside of the Alcoa "family," Wagner had lost his ability to participate in many of Alcoa's benefit programs. He contends that Jackson and Fessenden led him to believe he would retain his participation and entitlement to these benefits after his job change. On June 13, 2006, he sued Alcoa, AFP, Plastofilm, Fessenden, Jackson, and Swoyer in DuPage County, asserting state law claims of fraudulent inducement to accept his new employment, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of the oral employment agreement he contends he had by virtue of his discussions with Swoyer, Fessenden, and Jackson before he switched to his position with AFP. Alcoa, AFP, and Plastofilm were served with the complaint on June 19; they removed the action to this court on July 19. Thereafter, Wagner moved to remand, challenging the contention that we may properly exercise jurisdiction.

LEGAL STANDARD

If a civil action filed in state court is one over which the federal district courts have original jurisdiction, the defendant may remove the case to federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is on the party seeking to invoke it; therefore, when a defendant seeks to remove an action, the burden is on that party to show that an exercise of jurisdiction is warranted. Workman v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 234 F.3d 998, 999 (7th Cir. 2000). The presence of one claim that can properly be heard by a federal court allows all claims within the case to be heard before that court, pursuant to the supplemental jurisdiction established by 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

DISCUSSION

The removal petition advanced two jurisdictional bases: federal question jurisdiction under § 502(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), codified at 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a), or diversity jurisdiction. Wagner has challenged each, and we examine them in turn.

A. Federal Question Jurisdiction

Claims within the scope of § 502(a) of ERISA can be brought only in federal court, whether the complaint in which they are found invokes the federal statute or not.

Though this is often referred to as complete preemption, it is not true preemption, which would only provide a defense to liability. See Rice v. Panchal, 65 F.3d 637, 640 (7th Cir. 1995). It is well settled that the source of federal subject matter jurisdiction must be found only in the contents of a well-pleaded complaint. See Louisville & N.R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152-54, 29 S.Ct. 42, 43-44 (1908). A defense of federal preemption (so-called conflict preemption) would not alter the contents of a complaint and thus would not supply a basis for removal of a case from state to federal court. See Rice, 65 F.3d at 640.*fn1

In this case, Wagner asserts that his complaint contains only state-law claims, making removal improper. Defendants contend that Wagner's claims fall within § 502(a)'s scope, making the absence of mention of any federal statute immaterial to the propriety of the removal. To resolve this issue, we must examine Wagner's claims using the three-factor test for § 502(a) claims set forth in Jass v. Prudential Health Care Plan, Inc., 88 F.3d 1482, 1487 (7th Cir. 1996). Under this test, Wagner's claims will be governed by § 502(a) no matter how he has pled them if 1) he is eligible to bring a claim under § 502(a) by virtue of being a participant or beneficiary in a plan covered by ERISA, 2) any of his causes of action fall within a provision of ERISA that he could enforce using § 502(a), and 3) his state law claims cannot be resolved without an interpretation of a contract that is governed by ERISA. See id. A review of the complaint reveals that none of these factors are satisfied.

First, there is no dispute that Wagner was not a participant or beneficiary in Alcoa's benefit plans at the time the injury occurred in this case. He is not seeking to be reenrolled in the benefit plans in which he participated while he was still an employee with Alcoa, nor is he contending that he did not receive benefits in accordance with the plans' provisions. The very nature of his claim is that he was not a plan beneficiary or participant because ...


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