United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. WATTERS United States District Judge
the Court is Defendant Liberty Life Assurance Company of
Boston's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 8). Also before the
Court is Plaintiff Theresa Sand-Smith's Motion to Remand
the case to the Thirteenth Judicial District Court,
Yellowstone County. (Doc. 10). For the foregoing reasons, the
Court DENIES both motions.
Life Assurance Company of Boston is an insurance company
licensed to do business in Montana. (Doc. 6 at ¶ 2).
Liberty Life fully insures a group disability income policy
(the Policy) issued to Farmers Group, Inc. (Doc. 6 at
¶¶ 3-4). Theresa Sand-Smith, a Montana resident, is
entitled to receive benefits under the Policy. (Doc. 6 at
¶ 3). On July 9, 2015, Liberty Life approved
Sand-Smith's claim for long term disability benefits.
(Doc. 6 at ¶ 6). Liberty Life informed Sand-Smith that,
under the policy, her long term disability benefits expired
after 24 months. (Doc. 6 at ¶ 7). On August 17, 2016,
Sand-Smith disputed Liberty Life's contention that her
long term disability benefits expired after 24 months, citing
a Montana mental health parity statute, Mont. Code Ann.
§ 33-22-706. (Doc. 24-4). Liberty Life maintained its
position. (Doc. 25-5).
November 30, 2016, Sand-Smith sued Liberty Life in Montana
state district court for a declaratory judgment that the
Policy did not limit her long term disability benefits to 24
months. (Doc. 6). Liberty Life removed the action to this
Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, arguing
the Policy and Sand-Smith's claim are governed by the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C.
§§ 1001 et seq., (ERISA). (Doc. 1). Sand-Smith
agrees the Policy and claim are governed by ERISA. (Doc. 12
Motion to Dismiss
support of its Motion to Dismiss, Liberty Life argues ERISA
pre-empts application of Montana's mental health parity
statute to the Policy. The Court does not address whether
ERISA pre-empts Montana's mental health parity statute at
this juncture because the Court finds Sand-Smith is entitled
to seek a determination of her rights to future benefits
under ERISA, whether the statute is pre-empted or not.
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is governed by
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss,
"a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face."' Ashcroftv. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic
Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
"A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded
factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
provides a civil action may be brought by a plan participant
"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 terms of
the plan." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B).
the complaint properly states a claim for relief provided for
under ERISA. Sand-Smith seeks a determination of her rights
to future benefits under the Policy. § 1132(a)(1)(B)
expressly entitles her to that remedy. Whether ERISA
pre-empts Montana's mental health parity statute will
determine, in part, what her benefits actually are, but it
does not affect Sand-Smith's right to seek that
determination. The complaint therefore does not fail to state
Motion to Remand
support of her Motion to Remand, Sand-Smith argues the Court
has discretion to remand the case based on the abstention
principle articulated in Wilton v. Seven Falls Co.,
515 U.S. 277 (1995). Sand-Smith further contends a
district court's order to remand is not reviewable on
appeal. Both of Sand-Smith's arguments are contrary to
the Court has no discretion to remand even if remand was
otherwise appropriate under Wilton. "[F]ederal
courts have the power to dismiss or remand cases based on
abstention principles only where the relief being sought is
equitable or otherwise discretionary." Quackenbush
v. Allstate Ins. Co.,517 U.S. 706, 731 (1996).
Quackenbush distinguished cases where federal courts
have the power to issue abstention-based remand orders, such
as suits brought under the Declaratory Judgment Act or suits
in equity, from cases where federal courts have no power to
issue abstention-based remand orders, such as suits for
damages. 517 U.S. at 728-731. The Supreme Court concluded the
power to remand a case based on the abstention doctrine
derived from a district court's discretion to withhold
relief; if a district court did not have discretion to
withhold relief, it did not have the power to remand a case
based on the abstention doctrine. Quackenbush, 517
U.S. at 731. Federal courts sitting in equity historically
enjoyed discretion to withhold relief. Quackenbush,
517 U.S. at 727-728. Similarly, federal courts have
discretion to withhold relief under the Declaratory Judgment
Act, which provides "[A]ny court of the United States .
. . may declare the rights and other legal relations
of any interested party seeking such declaration." 28