United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
S. Shah, United States District Judge.
Physicians filed a complaint against the National Football
League in the circuit court of Cook County alleging tortious
interference with prospective economic advantage. [1-1] at
The complaint states that Advanced, a medical clinic, treated
over 200 former NFL players, who were covered by the NFL
Player Insurance Plan. [1-1] at ¶¶ 5, 9-10.
Advanced provided a variety of services, including
evaluations, diagnostic tests, physical therapy,
rehabilitation treatment, and pain management. Id.
at ¶ 5. These patients assigned their rights under the
NFL insurance plan to Advanced. Id. at ¶ 13.
2007 to 2014, Advanced submitted claims to Cigna, the
plan's administrator, and received payment. Id.
at ¶¶ 12-13. In 2015, Cigna stopped processing
Advanced's claims. Id. at ¶ 14. Advanced
alleges that it discovered that the “NFL directed Cigna
to deny all of Advanced's claims as [presumptively] work-
related. The NFL was upset that some of the retired players
Advanced treated were using diagnostic tests performed by
Advanced as evidence of a disability under the NFL's
disability plan.” Id. at ¶ 15.
result of these facts, Advanced “had and has a
reasonable expectation that it would continue to treat its
patients [former NFL players and their dependents] who were
and are beneficiaries under the Plan.” Id. at
¶¶ 17, 19. Advanced also alleges that the NFL's
interference caused “declining patient visits by
beneficiaries of the Plan, increased cost of Advanced's
operations, loss of financing, and increased costs of
financing. Advanced specifically denies that it is seeking as
damages the value of the denied claims.” Id.
removed the claim to federal court, , and filed a motion
to dismiss, , or, in the alternative, a motion to
transfer the case to the Northern District of Texas, ,
where Advanced has been litigating a related claim against
the NFL's insurance plan and its administrator, Cigna.
See Advanced Physicians, SC v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co.,
et al., No. 16-CV-2355 (N.D. Tex.). Advanced filed a
motion to remand. .
Motion to Remand
this case should be remanded back to state court depends on
whether the NFL's removal was proper, and removal of
Advanced's state-law tort claim is only appropriate if
the claim is completely preempted by federal law.
preemption occurs when Congress has legislated an area of law
so completely that a state-law claim automatically converts
into a federal cause of action-in spite of what was pled.
Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63-65
(1987). In contrast, conflict preemption serves as a federal
defense to a state-law claim and does not authorize removal
to federal court. Id. at 63.
the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, complete
preemption occurs if the plaintiff 1) could have brought its
claim under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) at some point and 2) no
other independent legal duty is implicated. Aetna Health
Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 210 (2004); see also
Studer v. Katherine Shaw Bethea Hosp., 867 F.3d 721, 724
(7th Cir. 2017) (citing Davila's “two-step
test”). Complete preemption effectuates ERISA's
purpose, “to provide a uniform regulatory regime over
employee benefit plans” that eliminates conflicting or
inconsistent state and local regulation over these plans.
Davila, 542 U.S. at 208; Pilot Life Ins. Co. v.
Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41, 46 (1987) (describing the remarks
of Senator Williams, who introduced ERISA legislation in the
Senate). Claims seeking damages beyond those authorized by
ERISA § 502(a) do not put the cause of action outside
the scope of the ERISA civil enforcement mechanism.
Davila, 542 U.S. at 214-15.
plaintiff can bring a claim under § 502(a)(1)(B) if it
is a “participant” or “beneficiary”
of the plan, and the claim is to recover benefits, enforce
rights, or clarify rights to future benefits under the plan.
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1). When a participant assigns her
rights under the plan to a medical provider, that provider
qualifies as a “beneficiary.” Pennsylvania
Chiropractic Ass'n v. Indep. Hosp. Indem. Plan,
Inc., 802 F.3d 926, 928 (7th Cir. 2015) (internal
citation omitted). NFL players and their dependents assigned
their rights under the plan to Advanced, [1-1] at ¶ 13,
meaning Advanced qualifies as a “beneficiary”
that could bring a lawsuit under § 502(a)(1).
determine whether ERISA completely preempts a claim, a court
must examine the complaint, the state law at issue, and plan
documents. Davila, 542 U.S. at 211. To allege
tortious interference with prospective economic advantage
under Illinois law, Advanced must show: 1) a reasonable
expectancy of entering into a valid business relationship; 2)
the NFL's knowledge of the expectancy; 3) an intentional
and unjustified interference by the NFL that induced or
caused a breach or termination of the expectancy; and 4)
damage to the plaintiff resulting from the NFL's
interference. Voyles v. Sandia Mortg. Corp., 196
Ill.2d 288, 300-01 (2001) (internal citation omitted);
see also Foster v. Principal Life Ins. Co., 806 F.3d
967, 971 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Voyles for the
legal elements of an intentional interference with
prospective economic advantage claim).
alleged in the complaint, whether the NFL insurance plan
actually covered Advanced's services determines the
“reasonableness” of Advanced's expectation to
treat former NFL players and their dependents in the future.
Beginning in 2007, Advanced submitted claims to Cigna and
received payment, [1-1] at ¶¶ 12-13, and its
history of treating former NFL players and their dependents
was the basis for Advanced's expectancy. Id. at
¶ 17. That expectancy was based on the patients'
status as beneficiaries under the plan. Id. The true
dispute, then, is about Advanced's assigned rights and
benefits under the plan, which is the type of claim ERISA
§ 502(a)(1)(B) permits. See Studer, 867 F.3d at
726. Advanced could have brought a claim under ERISA at some
point-and has, against different defendants, in the Northern
District of Texas. See Advanced Physicians, SC v. Conn.
Gen. Life Ins. Co., et al., No. 16-CV-2355 (N.D. Tex.).
second step of the Davila test, no other independent
legal duty is implicated when the defendant's liability
derives from the rights and obligations established by an
ERISA-regulated plan. Davila, 542 U.S. at 213. Here,
Advanced's “reasonable expectation” depends
on establishing its right to payment under the plan, and
since the assessment of Advanced's expectation requires
interpreting a federally regulated contract, the claim cannot
exist “independently” of ERISA under step two.
See Rice v. Panchal, 65 F.3d 637, 644 (7th Cir.
1995), as amended on denial of reh'g (Nov. ...