Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Sand-Smith v. Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

March 28, 2017

THERESA SAND-SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
LIBERTY LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY OF BOSTON, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN P. WATTERS United States District Judge

         Before 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.

         I. Facts

         Liberty 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).

         On 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 at 2).

         II. Discussion

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         In 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.

         A 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.

         ERISA 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).

         Here, 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 a claim.

         B. Motion to Remand

         In 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 applicable law.

         First, 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.