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U.S. Supreme Court

Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58 (1987)

Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor

No. 85-686

Argued January 21, 1987

Decided April 6, 1987*

481 U.S. 58


Section 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) provides that a participant or beneficiary may bring a civil action to, inter alia, recover benefits due him under the terms of an employee benefit plan. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), any civil action brought in state court of which the federal district courts have original jurisdiction may be removed by the defendant to the appropriate federal district court. Petitioner insurer underwrites an ERISA-covered plan set up by petitioner employer to pay benefits to salaried employees disabled by sickness or accident. After petitioners' doctors found that respondent employee was fit to resume working, his plan benefits were discontinued, his supplemental claim for benefits was denied, and his employment was terminated when he refused to return to work. He then filed suit in state court for reimplementation of his benefits and for related common law contract and tort claims, but petitioners removed the suit to federal court, alleging federal question jurisdiction over the disability claim by virtue of ERISA and pendent jurisdiction over the remaining claims. The District Court found the case properly removable, and granted summary judgment for petitioners on the merits. However, the Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the District Court lacked removal jurisdiction, finding that the complaint purported to state only state law causes of action, and that the "well-pleaded complaint" rule, under which a cause of action "arises under" federal law for jurisdictional purposes only when the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint raises federal law issues, did not allow removal predicated on the basis that the state law claims were subject to the federal defense of ERISA preemption. The court also held that the doctrine of Avco Corp. v. Machinists, 390 U. S. 557, which permits the removal of cases purporting to state only state law causes of action in labor cases preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (LMRA), did not apply to this case.

Page 481 U. S. 59


1. Under Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, ante p. 481 U. S. 41, respondent's common law contract and tort claims are preempted by ERISA, and this lawsuit falls directly under § 502(a)(1)(B), which provides an exclusive federal cause of action for resolution of suits by beneficiaries to recover benefits from a covered plan. Pp. 481 U. S. 62-63.

2. Common law causes of action filed in state court that are preempted by ERISA and come within the scope of § 502(a)(1)(B) are removable to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). The Avco doctrine applies in this situation to recharacterize a state law complaint displaced by § 502(a)(1)(B) as an action arising under federal law, even though the defense of ERISA preemption does not appear on the face of the complaint, as is normally required for removal by the "well-pleaded complaint" rule. That Congress meant to so completely preempt this subject area that any claim is necessarily federal in character is established by the language of § 502's jurisdictional subsection (f), which closely parallels that of § 301 of the LMRA, and statements in ERISA's civil enforcement provisions' legislative history, which indicate that § 502(a)(1)(B) suits should be regarded as "arising under" federal law in the same manner as § 301 suits. Respondent's contention that removal was improper because it was not "obvious" when he filed suit that his common law action was both preempted and displaced by ERISA is not persuasive, since the touchstone of federal courts' removal jurisdiction is not the "obviousness" of the preemption defense, but the intent of Congress. Pp. 481 U. S. 63-67.

763 F.2d 216, reversed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 67.

Page 481 U. S. 60

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