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Swenson v. United of Omaha Life Insurance Co. No. 17-30374 Summary Calendar

 

http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/17/17-30374-CV0.pdf
Before DAVIS, CLEMENT, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.
AFFIRMED. (December 4, 2017).
Following her husband’s death, Katheryn Swenson filed suit in Louisiana state court seeking benefits from a life insurance policy. Asserting its belief that Swenson’s husband was not a covered employee at the time of his death, the insurance company refused to pay. In seeking to recover the death benefits, Swenson cited Louisiana statutes imposing certain requirements on group life policies concerning the rights of a discharged employee to convert the employer-provided policy into individual life insurance. Although Swenson alleged only state law claims, the insurer removed the matter to Federal Court arguing complete preemption via the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. After the case was removed, Swenson added a claim for equitable relief under ERISA. The District Court dismissed Swenson’s claims on various grounds. It first held that ERISA preempted the state law claims, so it dismissed those with prejudice. Because of this finding of complete preemption, the District Court construed the complaint as seeking recovery of benefits from an ERISA plan, but dismissed that claim without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. As to the claim for equitable relief under ERISA, the District Court dismissed it with prejudice on the ground that equitable relief is not available when ERISA provides an adequate legal remedy such as the provision allowing judicial review of benefit denials (29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)). On appeal, Swenson challenged only the preemption ruling and denial of her claim for equitable relief. The Fifth Circuit affirms the District Court’s dismissal, agreeing that ERISA preempts Swenson’s state law claims. The Court reasons although ERISA’s savings clause preserves a role for certain state laws that regulate insurance, state claims that provide a separate vehicle for seeking benefits from an ERISA plan remain preempted as such claims must be brought under ERISA’s civil enforcement provision. Here, because Swenson’s claim for benefits had to be brought under Federal law, the District Court was correct to dismiss her state law claims seeking the same relief. Furthermore, the availability of that statutory remedy under § 502 of ERISA similarly defeated Swenson’s claim for equitable relief under Federal law.
On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana (Elizabeth Erny Foote).
Attorney for Appellant – Wade Thomas Visconte, Shreveport, LA
Attorney for Appellee – Thomas Edward Loehn, Metairie, LA

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