United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
John A. Messinger and David M. Messinger, Plaintiffs,
John C. Rodriguez and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Defendants.
PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs John and David
Messinger's motion to remand (ECF No. 8). For the reasons
stated herein, Plaintiffs' motion is granted.
February 17, 2014, Defendant John C. Rodriguez was driving a
vehicle with his wife, Roberta Anne Rodriguez, in the
passenger seat. The vehicle was involved in an accident,
killing Roberta. Roberta was covered by a Federal
Employees' Group Life Insurance (“FEGLI”)
policy. The FEGLI program is administered by the United
States Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) and
polices are issued by Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance
Company (“MetLife”). After Roberta's death,
MetLife paid each Plaintiff $238, 505.39 in accordance with
an April 17, 2007 Designation of Beneficiary form. That form
named Plaintiffs, her two sons, as beneficiaries in equal
shares. According to MetLife, OPM later informed it of a
subsequent Designation of Beneficiary form that Roberta
signed on November 2, 2011. The later form provided that
Defendant Rodriguez was entitled to 50% of the proceeds and
Plaintiffs were entitled to 25% each. MetLife then paid
Defendant Rodriguez a 50% share and sought to recover $119,
282.72 from each Plaintiff, alleging this amount was an
overpayment in light of the newer designation. Plaintiffs
filed this action in state court seeking a declaratory
judgment that they are entitled to the full amount they have
already received and have no obligation to return funds to
MetLife. They base their claims in contract interpretation,
negligence, misrepresentation, detrimental reliance, South
Carolina common law, and S.C. Code Ann. § 62-2-803(c), a
South Carolina law that prevents a person who feloniously and
intentionally kills the decedent from collecting benefits
under the decedent's life insurance policy.
removed this action from the Dorchester County Court of
Common Pleas on July 17, 2017. Plaintiffs filed their motion
to remand on September 29. MetLife filed a response in
opposition on October 11. Plaintiffs filed their reply on October
17. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for consideration.
at any time before final judgment it appears that the
district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case
shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The
burden of demonstrating jurisdiction resides with the party
seeking removal. Dixon v. Coburg Dairy, Inc., 369
F.3d 811, 816 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Mulcahey v.
Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir.
1994)). District courts are obliged to construe removal
jurisdiction strictly because of the “significant
federalism concerns” that removal implicates.
Id. Thus, “[i]f federal jurisdiction is
doubtful, a remand [to state court] is necessary.”
Id.; see also Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc.,
187 F.3d 422, 425 (4th Cir. 1999) (“[C]ourts should
‘resolve all doubts about the propriety of removal in
favor of retained state court jurisdiction.'”
(quoting Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6 F.3d
229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993))).
district court has federal question jurisdiction over
“all civil actions arising under the Constitution,
laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331. “Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, a
cause of action ‘arises under' federal law and
removal is proper, only if a federal question is presented on
the face of [the p]laintiff's properly pleaded
complaint.” Dykema v. King, 959 F.Supp. 736,
739 (D.S.C. 1997) (citing Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr.
Laborers Vacation Tr., 463 U.S. 1, 9-12 (1983)).
“[T]he vast majority” of federal question cases
“are those in which federal law creates the cause of
action.” Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson,
478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986). Federal question jurisdiction also
exists when a “plaintiff's right to relief depends
upon the resolution of a substantial question of federal
law.” Parker v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co.,
264 F.Supp.2d 364, 366 (D.S.C. 2003); see also Merrell
Dow Pharm., 478 U.S. at 808. If a plaintiff's right
to relief does not turn on some construction of federal law,
or if the question of federal law is not substantial, then
removal is improper and the case should be remanded.
Dixon, 369 F.3d at 816. Further, there is a
substantial federal question “only when every
legal theory supporting the claim requires the resolution of
a federal issue.” Id. (citing
Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 153).
has argued that this Court has jurisdiction for three
reasons. First, in MetLife's notice of removal, it cited
to 5 U.S.C. § 8715, which states, “The district
courts of the United States have original jurisdiction . . .
of a civil action or claim against the United States founded
on this chapter.” However, Plaintiffs do not bring
their claim “against the United States, ” so this
portion of the statute provides no support for the
Court's jurisdiction. See Parker, 264 F.Supp.2d
at 366 n.1. In its brief, MetLife argues that Plaintiffs'
claims raise a federal question and that Plaintiffs'
state-law claims are preempted. Before turning to these
arguments, a discussion of the interaction between preemption
and federal question jurisdiction is instructive.
courts distinguish between two types of preemption: ordinary
conflict preemption and complete preemption. Caterpillar
Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392-93 (1987); Lontz
v. Tharp, 413 F.3d 435, 439-41 (4th Cir. 2005). Ordinary
preemption occurs when federal law preempts conflicting state
laws. Darcangelo v. Verizon Commc'ns, Inc., 292
F.3d 181, 186 (4th Cir. 2002). Ordinary preemption is
“raised as a defense, ” Caterpillar, 482
U.S. at 392, and the Supreme Court has stated that it is
“settled law that a case may not be removed to
federal court on the basis of a federal defense, including
the defense of pre-emption.” Id. at 393. Thus,
ordinary preemption is not a valid basis for the Court to
exercise its federal question jurisdiction.
contrast, complete preemption does create federal question
jurisdiction. Lontz, 413 F.3d at 441. Complete
preemption occurs when federal law “so completely
pre-empt[s] a particular area that any civil complaint
raising this select group of claims is necessarily federal in
character.” Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v.
Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63 (1987); see also Beneficial
Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 11 (2003)
(finding complete preemption where federal law provides
“the exclusive cause of action for such claims”).
If there is complete preemption, “the federal claim is
treated as if it appears on the face of the complaint . . .
thereby justifying removal.” Lontz, 413 F.3d
at 441. “[C]omplete preemption thus prevents plaintiffs
from ‘defeat[ing] removal by omitting to plead
necessary federal questions.'” Id. at 440
(quoting Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 22).
Consistent with the strict construction of removal
jurisdiction and the federalism concerns it raises, there is
a presumption against finding complete preemption.
Whether Plaintiffs' Claims Raise a ...