United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Adrinne Hooker initiated this action in the Circuit Court for
Montgomery County, Maryland alleging Maryland Wage Payment
and Collection Law, Md. Code § 3-507-2 Lab. & Empl.
(MWPCL), and breach of contract claims against Defendant
Tunnell Government Services Inc. ECF No. 1-2. She alleges
that Defendant violated the MWPCL or breached Plaintiff's
employment contract when it terminated her employment rather
than allowing her to use paid sick days or apply for short-
or long-term disability benefits when she was injured and
unable to work. Id. Following removal to this Court,
ECF No. 1, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand, ECF No. 7.
Defendant moved the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's
Complaint, ECF No. 6, and requested leave to amend its Notice
of Removal, ECF No. 10. No. hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following
reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Remand will be denied;
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part and
denied in part; and Defendant's Motion for Leave to File
Amended Notice of Removal will be granted.
early 2014, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a senior quality
assurance specialist. ECF No. 1-2 ¶ 4. Defendant paid
Plaintiff a salary of approximately $100, 000 per year and
offered benefits including unlimited sick leave and short-
and long-term disability insurance. Id. ¶ 4, 6.
Defendant's employee manual mentions these benefits.
Id. ¶ 6.
March 25, 2015, Plaintiff was injured in an automobile
accident. Id. ¶ 5. She then experienced serious
and continuing neck and back pain and was unable to work
full-time for a period of months. Id. ¶ 5.
Around June 15, 2015, Defendant terminated Plaintiff because
of her inability to perform work. Id. ¶ 7. At
that time, Plaintiff requested that she be allowed to apply
for short- and long-term disability. Id. Defendant
denied that request. Id. Plaintiff was subsequently
unable to find employment for comparable compensation for
more than a year. Id. ¶ 8. She claims that she
lost more than $100, 000 in income because she was fired and
denied the opportunity to apply for disability coverage.
Id. ¶ 9.
13, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court for
Montgomery County, Maryland alleging state-law claims. ECF
No. 1-2. On July 31, 2018, within thirty days of receiving
service of the Complaint, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal
that relied on federal question and supplemental
jurisdiction. ECF No. 1. Specifically, Defendant asserted
that Plaintiff's state-law claims for long-term
disability benefits raise federal questions because they are
subject to complete preemption by the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001,
et seq, ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 2, 6, and that the
Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's
remaining state-law claims, id. ¶ 16. According
to Defendant, Plaintiff's state-law claims for long-term
disability benefits are artfully-pled claims to recover
benefits due to her under an employee-welfare-benefit plan
governed by ERISA. To support this allegation, Defendant
points to its Long-Term Disability Plan (the Plan), which was
in effect when Plaintiff requested to apply for long-term
disability benefits. Id. ¶ 11 (citing ECF No.
1-3 at 5). Under the Plan, a person becomes eligible
for insurance when he becomes a member, and
“member” is defined as:
Any PERSON (OTHER THAN EXECUTIVE PERSON), residing in the
United States, who is a U.S. citizen or is legally working in
the United States, who is a fulltime Employee of the
Policyholder and who regularly works at least 30 hours a
week. Work must be at the Policyholder's usual place or
places of business, at an alternative worksite at the
direction of the Policyholder, or at another place to which
the Employee must travel to perform his or her regular duties
. . .
1-3 at 12, 39. The definition of “Policyholder”
includes Defendant. Id. at 42. To apply for
long-term disability benefits under the Plan, a member must
file “claim forms and other information.”
Id. at 28. The Plan specifies that the
“Policyholder” is to “provide appropriate
claim forms to assist [members] in filing claims.”
filed a Motion to Remand, arguing that the Court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction over her claims because the
ERISA-governed Plan was not in effect when Plaintiff was
injured in March 2015 although the Plan was in effect when
Defendant denied Plaintiff the opportunity to apply for the
benefits. ECF No. 7 at 4. Defendant opposed Plaintiff's
Motion to Remand, ECF No. 11, and filed a Motion for Leave to
Amend Notice of Removal to clarify that its ERISA-governed
Plan has been continuously in effect since July 1, 2001 even
though it became funded through a new policy effective May 1,
2015, ECF No. 10.
on the same ERISA-preemption argument that supports
Defendant's Notice of Removal, Defendant moved to dismiss
Plaintiff's long-term disability claims. ECF No. 6.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6), Defendant
also moved to dismiss Plaintiff's MWPCL and breach of
contract claims for denials of short-term disability and
paid-sick leave. Id.
Motion to Remand
“Under the removal statute, ‘any civil action
brought in a State court of which the district courts of the
United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by
the defendant' to federal court.” Aetna Health
Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 207 (2004) (quoting 28
U.S.C. § 1441(a) (2012)). This Court has original
jurisdiction over claims “arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”
28 U.S.C. § 1331. Ordinarily, a plaintiff's claims
“arise under” the laws of the United States, when
the allegations in the well-pleaded complaint necessarily
alleges a federal claim. 542 U.S. at 207.
preemption, which “‘converts an ordinary state
common law complaint into one stating a federal claim,
'” provides an exception to the well-pleaded
complaint rule. Darcangelo v. Verizon Commc'ns,
Inc., 292 F.3d 181, 187 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting
Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65
(1987)). “[W]hen complete preemption exists, ‘the
plaintiff simply has brought a mislabeled federal claim,
which may be asserted under some federal statute.'”
Sonoco Prods. Co. v. Physicians Health Plan, Inc.,
338 F.3d 366, 371 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting King v.
Marriott Int'l, Inc., 337 F.3d 421, 425 (4th Cir.
2003)). In these situations, removal is proper
“regardless of the ‘label' that the plaintiff