United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
matter comes before the Court upon Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint and Memorandum in Support
(“Motion”), (Doc. 9), filed April 15, 2016;
Plaintiff's Memorandum in Response to Defendant's
Motion to Dismiss (“Response”), (Doc. 14), filed
April 29, 2016; and Defendant's Reply in Support of its
Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint
(“Reply”), (Doc. 15), filed May 13, 2016. The
Court converted the Motion to Dismiss to a Motion for Summary
Judgment, and ordered the parties to submit supplemental
briefing and evidence in support of their positions. (Doc.
21); (Docs. 22, 23. & 24) (“Supplemental
Briefs”). The Court also heard further argument at a
hearing on April 4, 2017.
argues that this Court does not have jurisdiction over this
case. Indeed, Court must first be certain that federal
subject-matter jurisdiction exists before ruling on
Defendant's Motion. As a result, the Court construes the
jurisdictional issue as coming before the Court in a motion
to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). See 14C The
Late Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H.
Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3739
(4th ed. 2009) (“district court must be certain that
federal subject-matter jurisdiction is proper before
entertaining a defendant's motion under Federal Civil
Rule 12 to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint for failure
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”).
Thus, having reviewed the Motion, the underlying briefing and
evidence, oral argument, and relevant law, the Court finds
that it does not have jurisdiction to preside over this case
and REMANDS the matter to state court.
Sherry Evans-Carmichael (“Plaintiff”) originally
filed her Complaint for Breach of Contract, Breach of Duty of
Good Faith and Fair Dealing, Bad Faith and Violation of the
New Mexico Insurance Code (“Complaint”) in the
First Judicial District Court of the State of New Mexico.
(Doc. 4) at 6-18. In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks to
recover damages for Defendant Liberty Mutual Group,
Inc.'s (“Defendant's”) alleged breach of
a disability benefits plan, in which Plaintiff participated
by virtue of her employment at the Los Alamos National
Laboratory (“LANL”). (Doc. 4) at 7, 17-18.
April 8, 2016, Defendant removed the case to this Court,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Doc. 4) at 2. As the
basis for removal, Defendant asserted that Plaintiff's
claims relate to the laws of the United States, specifically,
the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001, et
seq. Defendant then moved to dismiss Plaintiff's
claims on the ground that the disability benefits plan at
issue (“Policy”) is an “employee benefit
plan” governed by ERISA, which preempts the state law
causes of action. Accordingly, Defendant argued that the
allegations pled in the Complaint are insufficient to state a
claim under ERISA.
response, Plaintiff argued that the disability benefits plan
at issue is a “governmental plan, ” which is
exempted from ERISA pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §
1003(b)(1). (Doc. 14) at 6-7. In addition, Plaintiff
disputed whether the Policy attached to Defendant's
Motion is a true and correct copy of the policy provided to
Plaintiff. As a result, Plaintiff contended that the Court
must consider additional facts, and make factual findings, in
order to determine whether ERISA applies to the disability
benefits plan in this case. Id. at 7-8.
review of the Complaint and the Motion, the Court determined
that it was unable to decide the factual question of whether
the policy is a “governmental plan” based on the
allegations in the Complaint and, thus, whether the Court has
jurisdiction to hear the case. As a result, the Court found
it appropriate to convert the Motion to Dismiss to a Motion
for Summary Judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56. See Smith v. Reg'l Transit Auth., 756 F.3d
340, 344-47 (5th Cir. 2014) (holding that federal district
courts have subject matter jurisdiction to decide whether
plan is ERISA plan or governmental plan, and that where
factual information outside pleadings is necessary, proper
vehicle to do so is Rule 56). The parties then had an
opportunity to supplement their briefing to include evidence
supporting their position. (Doc. 21).
parties' supplemental briefing makes clear, however,
that, as an initial matter, they dispute the applicable
policy to Plaintiff's disability claim. Defendant argues
that the Los Alamos National Security, LLC
(“LANS”) Group Disability Income Policy
(“LANS Policy”) applies to Plaintiff's
disability claim. Plaintiff disagrees, and maintains that a
University of California (“UC”) Supplemental
Disability Policy (“UC Policy”) applies. As
stated above, the parties dispute whether the LANS policy is
a “governmental plan” under ERISA. However,
Defendant does not dispute, and the record reflects, that the
UC Policy is a “governmental plan, ” over which
this Court does not have jurisdiction. (Doc. 23-9). Thus, the
question as to which policy applies to Plaintiff's
disability claim becomes a dispositive factual issue
establishing subject matter jurisdiction.
Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a defendant may
seek dismissal of a lawsuit for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. “Rule 12(b)(1) motions generally take one
of two forms: (1) a facial attack on the sufficiency of the
complaint's allegations as to subject matter
jurisdiction; or (2) a challenge to the actual facts upon
which subject matter jurisdiction is based.” Ruiz
v. McDonnell, 299 F.3d 1173, 1180 (10th Cir. 2002)
(citing Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002-03
(10th Cir.1995)). Where a Rule 12(b)(1) motion constitutes a
facial attack on the allegation of subject matter
jurisdiction contained in the complaint, courts presume all
of the factual allegations contained in the complaint to be
true. Id. On the other hand, where a party attacks
the facts themselves, “a court has ‘wide
discretion to allow affidavits, other documents, and a
limited evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed
jurisdictional facts.'” Stuart v. Colorado
Interstate Gas Co., 271 F.3d 1221, 1225 (10th Cir. 2001)
(citing Holt, 46 F.3d at 1003).
to 28 U.S.C. 1441(a), a defendant may remove a state civil
action “to the district court of the United States for
the district and division embracing the place where such
action is pending, ” if the federal district court has
original jurisdiction over the matter. Given the federal
court's role as a limited tribunal, there is a
presumption against removal jurisdiction. Martin v.
Franklin Capital Corp., 251 F.3d 1284, 1289 (10th Cir.
2001) (abrogated on other grounds by Dart Cherokee Basin
Operation Co., LLC v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 554
(2014)) (citing Laughlin v. Kmart Corp., 50 F.3d
871, 873 (10th Cir. 1995)). Indeed, “[r]emoval statutes
are to be strictly construed, and all doubts are to be
resolved against removal.” Fajen v. Foundation
Reserve Ins. Co., Inc., 683 F.2d 331, 333 (10th Cir.
1982) (internal citations omitted). As a result, “[t]he
removing party bears the burden of establishing the
requirements for federal jurisdiction.” Aranda v.
Foamex Int'l, 884 F.Supp.2d 1186, 1198 (D.N.M. 2012)
(internal citations omitted).
“if federal subject-matter jurisdiction over a removed
case is doubtful, the case should be remanded to state
court.” 14C Federal Practice and Procedure § 3739.
In the Tenth Circuit, “[w]here the removing party's
argument is premised on a factual issue, ‘the issue
must be capable of summary determination and be proven with
complete certainty.'” Bristow First Assembly of
God v. BP p.l.c., No. 15-CV-523-TCK-FHM, 2016 WL
5415792, at *2 (N.D. Okla. Sept. 28, 2016) (citing Smoot
v. Chicago, R.I. & P. R. Co., 378 F.2d 879, 882
(10th Cir. 1967)); see Fairchild v. Progressive Direct
Ins. Co., No. CV 13-0911 KBM/LFG, 2013 WL 11327114, at
*5 (D.N.M. Dec. 20, 2013). Indeed, a court may not
“pre-try, as a matter of course, doubtful issues of
fact to determine removability[.]” Smoot, 378 F.2d at
882 (internal citations omitted). It follows that
“[w]hen a federal court ...