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Improper Parties and ERISA Preemption: D.N.J.

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  • Improper Parties and ERISA Preemption: D.N.J.

    In a recent case from the District of New Jersey, the court wrestles with a case in which the ERISA claim against the insurance company was pled under the wrong subsection, the defendants were improper, and the state law claims were preempted by ERISA.

    Here, Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff’s ERISA claims, arguing that: (1) Plaintiff cannot state a claim under § 502(a)(2), because the Complaint seeks recovery of benefits allegedly owed to Plaintiff on an individual basis, rather than on behalf of the Plan as a whole; and (2) Plaintiff cannot state a claim under § 502(a)(3), because Plaintiff seeks a remedy for the same alleged wrongdoing under a separate provision of ERISA. Plaintiff concedes that he has failed to state a claim under both §§ 502(a)(2) and 502(a)(3); arguing instead that his Complaint actually seeks relief under § 502(a)(1)(B), and that the Complaint’s citation to the other sections of ERISA amount to clerical error. Pl.’s Br. at 20 (“As [Defendants’] brief . . . recognizes, Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA . . . is the appropriate reference for the recovery of benefits . . . . Obviously, due to a clerical error . . . there is a reference to an inapplicable section of ERISA.”).

    The Court agrees that Plaintiff’s ERISA claim falls under § 502(a)(1)(B). As a result, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s claims under § 502(a)(2) and 502(a)(3) without prejudice, and permit Plaintiff to amend his Complaint to assert a claim under § 502(a)(1)(B).
    Next, the court agrees with the Defendants in that ERISA only permits recovery against a plan as an entity or fiduciaries of the plan, as opposed to individual defendants.

    Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA authorizes a “participant or beneficiary” of a benefits plan to bring a civil action “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). ERISA further provides that “[a]ny money judgment under [§502] against an employee benefit plan shall be enforceable only against the plan as an entity and shall not be enforceable against any other person unless liability against such person is established in his individual capacity under this subchapter.”
    Finally, the court finds that the Plaintiff's state law claims asserted in Counts One, Two, Three, and Five are preempted under ERISA. After reviewing each count, the court agrees with the Defendant. As such, the court dismisses the Plaintiff's claims against the individual defendants, his common law claims, and the ERISA claims brought under the wrong subsection. The opinion is attached below.
    Attached Files