United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division
ROGER G. MEADOWS, deceased, by and through his Administrator, SHARON MEADOWS, and his Heirs at Law, MIRANDA MEADOWS and LEE ANN MEADOWS PLAINTIFFS
UNUM GROUP CORP., formerly operating as UNUM PROVIDENT CORP.; PROVIDENT LIFE & ACCIDENT INS. CO. and other unknown and unnamed entities DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Motion for Declaratory
Judgment to Assert Exceptions to Pre-emption and to Declare
Plan “Non-ERISA” (“Motion for Declaratory
Judgment”)  filed by Plaintiffs Roger G. Meadows,
deceased, by and through his Administrator, Sharon Meadows,
and his Heirs at Law, Miranda Meadows and Lee Ann Meadows
(collectively “Plaintiffs”), and the Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment  filed by Unum Group Corp.
(“Unum”) and Provident Life & Accident
Insurance Co. (“Provident”) (collectively
“Defendants”). Both motions deal exclusively with
the issue of whether the subject benefits plan was an
employee welfare benefit plan subject to the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). After
considering the submissions of the parties, the record, and
the applicable law, the Court finds that the subject plan was
an ERISA benefit plan. The Motion for Declaratory Judgment
 is therefore not well taken and should be denied, and
the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment  is well taken
and should be granted.
originally filed this action against Defendants in the
Circuit Court of Jones County, Mississippi, bringing claims
of breach of contract and bad faith denial of coverage.
Defendants removed to this Court on December 22, 2017,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, alleging federal question
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and diversity
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
Roger G. Meadows (“Dr. Meadows”) was employed by
Hattiesburg Clinic (the “Clinic”) as a physician
from 2006 until 2012. As a physician, he was eligible to
participate in the Supplemental Income Protection Plan (the
“Plan”) offered by the Clinic for certain
eligible employees. Under the Plan, eligible employees would
apply for individual policies that would be issued by
Provident under the terms of the Plan, and the
premiums of these policies would be paid for by the Clinic.
Pursuant to the Plan, Dr. Meadows applied for and received a
disability income policy through Provident. (See
February 2012, Dr. Meadows suffered a gunshot would during a
confrontation with the Jones County Sheriff's Department.
He submitted a claim under his disability income policy with
Provident on April 18, 2012, and was later terminated from
his employment with the Clinic on April 28, 2012. In January
2014, Provident determined that Dr. Meadows was not eligible
for benefits under his policy. On November 16, 2016, Dr.
Meadows died. His heirs now bring this action, seeking
damages for wrongfully denied benefits.
question before the Court in both Plaintiffs' Motion for
Declaratory Judgment  and Defendants' Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment  is whether the Plan was an
employee benefit plan subject to ERISA, thereby preempting
Plaintiffs' state law claims.
Fifth Circuit has “devised a comprehensive test for
determining whether a particular plan qualifies as an
‘employee welfare benefit plan'” subject to
ERISA. Meredith v. Time Ins. Co., 980 F.2d 352, 355
(5th Cir. 1993). Under this test, the Court must “ask
whether a plan: (1) exists; (2) falls within the safe-harbor
provision established by the Department of Labor; and (3)
satisfies the primary elements of an ERISA ‘employee
benefit plan'-establishment or maintenance by an employer
intending to benefit employees.” Id. If a plan
meets all of these requirements, it is an ERISA employee
welfare benefit plan and therefore subject to preemption.
A Plan Exists
determine if a plan exists, the Court “must determine
whether from the surrounding circumstances a reasonable
person could ascertain the intended benefits, beneficiaries,
source of financing, and procedures for receiving
benefits.” Meredith, 980 F.2d at 355 (quoting
Donovan v. Dillingham, 688 F.2d 1367, 1373 (11th
Cir. 1993)). In this case, it is readily apparent that the
circumstances indicate that a plan exists. The
“intended benefits” are the disability insurance
benefits under the policies, the “beneficiaries”
are the eligible Clinic employees, the “source of
financing” is the premiums paid by the Clinic, and the
“procedures for receiving benefits” are the
procedures under the policies. See id.
Plaintiffs' assertions, the fact that Dr. Meadows
received an individual policy does not mean that a plan did
not exist. The Fifth Circuit has held that an individual
policy issued to a beneficiary can still be part of an
overarching ERISA employee welfare benefit plan. Hollis
v. Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co., 259 F.3d 410,
414 (5th Cir. 2001). Because the surrounding circumstances
indicate that a plan did in fact exist, the Court finds that
this prong of the test has been met.
the safe-harbor provision, a plan can only be exempt from
ERISA if it meets four criteria: “(1) the employer does
not contribute to the plan; (2) participation is voluntary;
(3) the employer's role is limited to collecting premiums
and remitting them to the insurer; and (4) the
employer received no profit from the plan.”