United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
JOANNA M. BUFKIN and MICHAEL S. MCDOWELL PLAINTIFFS
THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA and JOHN DOES 1-10 DEFENDANTS
T. WINGATE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
THIS COURT is a Motion to Dismiss [Docket no. 7]
filed by Defendant The Prudential Insurance Company of
America (hereinafter referred to as
“Prudential”). Prudential filed its Motion to
Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, requesting that this Court dismiss Plaintiffs'
Complaint [Complaint, Docket no. 2, pp. 4-8] with prejudice.
In support of its Motion to Dismiss, Prudential alleges that
Plaintiffs' Complaint asserts only state law claims,
which are preempted here because, says Prudential, this
action must be constructed under the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), an
enactment authorized by the United States Congress.
Accordingly, continues Prudential, the Complaint, sub
judice, fails to state any state law claims against
Prudential upon which relief can be granted.
Joanna M. Bufkin (“Bufkin”) and Michael S.
McDowell (“McDowell”) (hereinafter collectively
referred to as “Plaintiffs”), in their Response
to Prudential's Motion to Dismiss [Docket no. 9], contend
otherwise and deny that their pleading triggers ERISA
jurisprudence. Plaintiffs further contend, as a precaution,
that if this Court finds their Complaint to be insufficient
to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) analysis, this Court should grant
Plaintiffs leave to amend their assertions and causes of
reasons set forth below, this Court DENIES IN PART and GRANTS
IN PART Prudential's Motion to Dismiss [Docket no. 7].
question presented herein is whether Plaintiffs' state
law claims for death benefits under a life-insurance policy
issued by Prudential are preempted by ERISA. Plaintiffs
allege that their claims are not preempted by ERISA because:
(1) the policy of insurance at issue here is not an
“employee benefit plan” under ERISA; and (2)
Plaintiffs' have alleged state law claims against
Prudential based upon state laws which are
“saved” from federal preemption.
is an adult resident citizen of Hinds County, Mississippi
[Compl. ¶1]. Bufkin is a named beneficiary under the
life-insurance policy issued by Prudential, which is the
subject of this dispute.
is an adult resident citizen of Los Angeles County,
California [Compl. ¶2]. McDowell, too, is also a named
beneficiary under the life insurance policy at issue in this
is a foreign corporation doing business in the State of
Mississippi and organized under the laws of the State of New
Jersey with its principal address in Newark, New Jersey
also name as Defendants, John Does 1-10 (“ John Doe
Defendants”) as “persons or entities affiliated
with Defendant Prudential and/or have acted in concert with
Prudential, whose identities are currently unknown.”
[Compl. ¶4]. This Court ignores the
“presence” of the John Doe Defendants on any
jurisdictional question in this matter. Title 28 U.S.C.
§ 1441(b)(1) explains: “[i]n determining whether
a civil action is removable on the basis of the jurisdiction
under section 1332(a) ... the citizenship of defendants sued
under fictitious names shall be disregarded.”
Chapman v. Kroger Ltd. Partn., 3:11-CV-688 HTW-LRA,
2012 WL 775812, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 7, 2012).
April 17, 2018, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint against
Prudential in the Circuit Court for the First Judicial
District of Hinds County, Mississippi, Cause No.
25CI1:18-cv-00218-JAW. Plaintiffs' State Complaint
asserted claims against Prudential for: (1) breach of
contract; (2) breach of the implied covenant of good faith
and fair dealing; (3) negligence; (4) gross negligence; (5)
bad faith and tortuous breach of contract; (6)
misrepresentation; (7) promissory estoppel; (8) equitable
estoppel; and (9) vicarious liability [See generally
17, 2018, Prudential removed this lawsuit from the Circuit
Court of Hinds County, Mississippi, to this Court. This
Court, said Prudential in its Notice of Removal [Docket no.
1], has jurisdiction over this matter until Title 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1332, 1441, and 1446
alleged beneficiaries of a life-insurance policy issued by
Prudential, Plaintiffs brought forth this action to recover
death benefits, which Plaintiffs allege were wrongfully
denied to them by Prudential. Below is a summary of the
pertinent events which led to this lawsuit.
Joanne C. Mohrman (hereinafter referred to as “Mrs.
Mohrman” was an employee of Prudential until late 2001
and a participant in Prudential's Employee Benefit Group
Plan (hereinafter referred to as “the Group
Plan”), which provided Mrs. Mohrman life-insurance
coverage with a death benefit amount of $288, 000 [Compl.
¶ 7; See generally Exhibits A-C]. The Group
Plan was maintained and administered by Prudential to provide
its employees with inter alia, life insurance
[See generally Ex. A and Ex. B]. As the “Plan
Sponsor” and “Plan Administrator”,
Prudential issued the group- insurance coverage, administered
the Group Plan, and among other things, supplied claim forms
to employees, maintained claims records, processed claims,
and determined benefits [Compl. ¶ 7; Exhibit A at pp.
29-30; Exhibit B at p. 36].
end of Mrs. Mohrman's employment with Prudential,
Prudential offered Mrs. Mohrman the option to either continue
coverage under the Group Plan as a “portable
participant” or to covert that coverage into an
individual-life policy [Compl. ¶ 7; Exhibit D].
Prudential's Group Universal Life Insurance Option
Election Form (“Option Form”) explained to Mrs.
Mohrman that “[she] may continue the same amount of
coverage that was in force on the last day of [her] active
service.” [Compl. ¶ 7; Exhibit D]. at p. 2 ¶
1]. The Option Form clarifies that “[p]ortable
participants are billed quarterly, and are subject to all
rate changes that apply to the active participants.”
Mohrman elected to continue her insurance coverage under the
Group Plan after her employment with Prudential had ended in
2001 [Compl. ¶ 7; Exhibit D].
Joanne C. Morhman (Mrs. Mohrman) was the named insured of a
universal life insurance policy issued by Prudential [Compl.
Mrs. Mohrman…applied for Prudential's Electronic
Funds Transfer (“EFT”) payment method to ensure
the payment of her insurance premiums [Compl. ¶8].
…Mrs. Mohrman received a notice from Prudential that
her EFT application had been processed and would be used to
initiate an EFT deduction on her “next payment”
Mrs. Mohrman reasonably relied on the notice and reasonably
believed that the premiums due under her policy would be paid
by an EFT reduction [Compl. ¶10].
…Prudential…canceled her insurance policy for
failure to pay the premium. Prudential claimed premiums owed
had not been paid by EFT deduction [Compl. ¶12].
At all times prior to her death, Mrs. Mohrman was willing and
able to pay the policy premiums and believed, in fact, that
she had [Compl. ¶13].
Mrs. Mohrman died on April 18, 2015 [Compl. ¶14].
Plaintiffs Joanna M. Bufkin and Michael S. McDowell are the
named beneficiaries under the policy and are entitled to the
policy's death benefits [Compl. ¶17].
On April 30, 2015, the Administrator of Mrs. Mohrman's
estate sent a copy of the Death Certificate for Mrs. Mohrman
to Prudential requesting that the policy be paid to the
beneficiaries [Compl. ¶15].
Prudential denied payment of death benefits under the policy.
The stated reason was for nonpayment of premium [Compl.
Prudential breached the universal life insurance contract by
failing to pay death benefits upon the death of Mrs. Mohrman
and the presentment of the beneficiaries' claim [Compl.
Complaint does not identify the exact amount of damages
sought; rather, Plaintiffs' ...