United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division
DARROW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”) denied Scott
Jeffrey DeVooght’s application for disability benefits
pursuant to an employee insurance plan. DeVooght, proceeding
without an attorney, sued MetLife and MetLife employees Joyce
Allen and Ann Marie Hess (together “Defendants”),
seeking unpaid disability benefits and damages based on
various state law theories of contractual liability.
Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss DeVooght’s
complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. ECF No. 19. They argue that (1) DeVooght’s
state law claims are preempted by the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act (“ERISA”), see 29
U.S.C. § 1144; (2) Defendants Allen and Hess cannot be
individually liable; and (3) DeVooght’s jury demand
should be stricken. The Court GRANTS the motion, but notes
that this does not dismiss DeVooght’s claims for unpaid
of his former employment with L.B. Benefits, DeVooght was a
participant in an employee welfare benefit plan (“the
Plan”). Compl. ¶ 7. DeVooght became disabled in
May 2011 and sought long-term disability benefits under the
Plan. Compl. ¶ 8. MetLife denied DeVooght’s
initial claim for benefits and his appeal. Compl. ¶ 9.
Pursuant to the terms of the Plan, DeVooght could file a
civil law suit seeking benefits within a specified time
period that begins “60 days after the date Proof [of
meeting conditions to receive benefits] is filed and ends 3
years after the date such Proof is required.”
Defs.’ Mem. Ex. A at 46; Compl. ¶ 9.
emailed Defendants to clarify the deadline to file suit.
Compl. ¶ 10. On August 4, 2014, Defendant Joyce Allen,
an employee of MetLife, responded: “there is no dead
line set for filing suit.” Compl. ¶ 10. In March
2015, DeVooght again inquired via email about the deadline to
file a civil action challenging the denial of benefits.
Compl. ¶ 11. Defendant Ann Marie Hess, also a MetLife
employee, responded to DeVooght’s inquires that the
deadline to file suit had passed, as it had been November 15,
2014. Compl. ¶ 11.
MetLife’s motion to dismiss
filed a motion to dismiss DeVooght’s state law claims
of bad faith, misrepresentation of material facts, and unfair
insurance claim practices, which are the claims he lists on
his pro se pleading. They contend that those state law claims
are preempted by ERISA, specifically by 29 U.S.C. §
1144(a). Defendants also argue that Defendants Allen and Hess
may not be held individually liable under ERISA and therefore
request that the claims against Allen and Hess be dismissed.
Defendants also request that DeVooght’s demand for a
jury trial be stricken because ERISA does not provide jury
under 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a)
preemption is an affirmative defense that flows from the
Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, and it “operates
to prevent the enforcement of state laws that conflict with
federal laws or regulations.” Fifth Third Bank ex
rel. Tr. Officer v. CSX Corp., 415 F.3d 741, 745 (7th
Cir. 2005) (citing U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2). Whether a
federal statute displaces a state law depends on whether
Congress intended such a result. Id. at 746 (stating
“congressional purpose” is “the ultimate
touchstone” in a preemption analysis); see also
Patriotic Veterans, Inc. v. Indiana, 736 F.3d 1041, 1046
(7th Cir. 2013) (citing Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S.
555, 565 (2009)). Congressional intent to preempt state law
may manifest as express preemption, field preemption, or
conflict preemption. Aux Sable Liquid Prods. v.
Murphy, 526 F.3d 1028, 1033 (7th Cir. 2008).
“Express preemption occurs when a federal statute
explicitly states that it overrides state or local
expressly preempts state law; section 1144(a) provides that
ERISA “shall supersede any and all State laws insofar
as they may . . . relate to any employee benefit plan.”
29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). If an employee benefit plan is
regulated by ERISA and the state law the plaintiff seeks to
enforce “relates to” the plan, the claim is
preempted. Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S.
41, 47-48 (1987) (holding common law tortious breach of
contract and bad faith claims preempted by § 1144);
Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Mass., 471 U.S. 724, 735
(1985) (noting the broad scope of § 1144 preemption).
The Plan is regulated by ERISA
defines an employee welfare benefit plan as a plan
“established or maintained by an employer . . . for the
purpose of providing for its participants or their
beneficiaries . . . benefits in the event of sickness,
accident, disability, death or unemployment . . .” 29
U.S.C. § 1002(1). ...