United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JORGE ALONSO United States District Judge
BMO Harris Bank, N.A., removed this case from the Circuit
Court of Cook County, and plaintiff Byron Behrens has filed a
motion to remand, contending that there is no basis for
federal jurisdiction. For the following reasons, the Court
grants plaintiff's motion.
Byron Behrens worked for BMO Harris Bank, N.A.,
(“BMO”) for more than thirty years, from mid-1969
until mid-2004, when he retired from his position as
“vice president of the probate division/estate
administration.” (Notice of Removal, Ex. 1, Compl.
¶ 26, ECF No. 1-1.) After retiring, plaintiff requested
to return to work on a part-time basis, and in July 2004, he
signed an independent contractor agreement with BMO. (See
Id. ¶¶ 40-42.) As an independent contractor,
he lacked “direct signing authority on behalf of”
BMO and “generally did not take new accounts for
administration, ” but he assumed largely the same
employment duties he had performed before he retired.
(See Id. ¶¶ 44-48.) Plaintiff remained at
BMO as an independent contractor for twelve years under three
successive independent contractor agreements. Plaintiff's
final employment with BMO ended in February of 2016.
originally filed this case in state court, alleging that
during his post-retirement employment with BMO he was
mischaracterized as an independent contractor, causing
damages in the form of lost compensation and employee
benefits. Based on these allegations, plaintiff asserts
claims against BMO for violating the Illinois Wage Payment
and Collection Act, common-law intentional
mischaracterization as an independent contractor, and unjust
enrichment. Moreover, plaintiff has brought this action on
behalf of a putative class of similarly situated people
asserting the same claims. BMO removed the action to this
Court, claiming that this Court has federal question
jurisdiction because plaintiff seeks damages partially based
on amounts BMO should have contributed on his behalf under
two retirement benefit plans governed by the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”).
BMO argues that the complete preemption power of ERISA
engulfs plaintiff's claims, even though plaintiff pleads
only state-law claims.
moves to remand, arguing that he is seeking merely “the
value of the contributions that [BMO] would have made on
[Behrens's] behalf to the plan had he been properly
classified, but does not, and could not, bring a claim under
ERISA § 502 for benefits.” (Mot. to Remand at 2,
ECF No. 17.)
state-court defendant may remove a civil action to a federal
court if the federal court has original jurisdiction over the
action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (“Except as otherwise
expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action
brought in a State court of which the district courts of the
United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by
the defendant or the defendants.”). Federal courts have
original jurisdiction of an action either based on diversity
of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, or if the civil
action “aris[es] under the . . . laws . . . of the
United States” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The
removing party bears the burden of proving that federal
jurisdiction is proper. Walker v. Trailer Transit,
Inc., 727 F.3d 819, 825 (7th Cir. 2013).
argues that this Court has jurisdiction and its removal of
this case was proper because (a) ERISA completely preempts
plaintiff's claims and (b) plaintiff's state law
claims raise a federal question because he seeks FICA
contributions under the Internal Revenue Code.
COMPLETE PREEMPTION UNDER ERISA
determine whether removal is proper based on §1441(a),
federal courts generally apply the “well-pleaded
complaint” rule, which provides that “a defendant
may not [generally] remove a case to federal court unless the
plaintiff's complaint establishes that the case
‘arises under' federal law.” Franchise
Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S.
Cal., 493 U.S. 1, 9-10 (1983). However,
“‘when the federal statute completely pre-empts
the 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.' ERISA is
one of these statutes.” Aetna Health Inc. v.
Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 208 (2004) (quoting Beneficial
Nat. Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8 (2003)).
ERISA § 502, an action may be brought “by a
participant or beneficiary . . . to recover benefits due to
him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under
the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future
benefits under the plan.” 29 U.S.C. §
1132(a)(1)(B). The Supreme Court has articulated a
two-pronged test for determining whether ERISA § 502
completely preempts a plaintiff's state-law claim:
“if an individual, at some point in time, could have
brought his claim under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), and where
there is no other independent legal duty that is ...