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McCarty v. Exelon Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 3, 2019

LORI Mccarty, Plaintiff,
v.
EXELON CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Lori McCarty has filed a civil action against Defendant Exelon Corporation ("Exelon") alleging that it has improperly calculated the amount of pension benefits that she is due under her former husband's pension plan as a surviving spouse. In her Complaint filed in the Circuit Court for Calvert County, Maryland, McCarty seeks a declaratory judgment on the amount of benefits she is due and an order instructing Exelon to pay her the past benefits she is owed and the correct amount of benefits going forward. Exelon removed the action to this Court, on the grounds that McCarty's claim is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 (2012). Pending before the Court is Exelon's Motion to Dismiss. Upon review of the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         McCarty was previously married to Jeffrey Gill Denton, Sr., who was employed by the Baltimore Gas & Electric Company. Through that employment, Denton received a pension administered by Exelon ("the Plan"). When McCarty and Denton divorced in 1995, the Circuit Court for Calvert County ordered that McCarty would receive a portion of Denton's pension benefits as a surviving spouse should Denton predecease her, pursuant to a Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDRO") that followed their Voluntary Separation and Property Settlement Agreement.

         Denton died in November 2016. When McCarty did not receive any Plan benefits from Exelon, she contacted it in March 2017 regarding the benefits owed to her under the QDRO. On June 22, 2017, Exelon sent McCarty a letter informing her of the amount of benefits she would receive based on its interpretation of the Plan and the QDRO. Exelon also told McCarty that she would not receive benefits until July 2017, eight months after Denton's death. McCarty disagreed with Exelon's calculation. While McCarty claims that she and her attorney "attempted to remedy the situation with Defendant's representatives to no avail," she does not state that she pursued Exelon's administrative review process for adjudicating disputes over benefit claims. Compl. ¶ 10, ECF No. 1-3. She asserts that she has not received any Plan benefits from Exelon.

         On May 18, 2018, McCarty filed suit against Exelon in the Circuit Court for Calvert County, requesting a declaratory judgment on the amount of benefits she is due under the Plan and the QDRO, an order requiring Exelon to pay her all past benefits due and all future benefits in accordance with the court's determination, and attorney's fees. On June 27, 2018, Exelon removed the action to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction.

         DISCUSSION

         In its Motion, Exelon seeks dismissal of the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). First, Exelon argues that the Complaint was properly removed to federal court because McCarty's state court claim was preempted by ERISA. Second, it asserts that the Complaint must be dismissed because McCarty has not exhausted her administrative remedies, as required by ERISA. McCarty, who was represented by counsel in the state court proceeding but is self-represented in this Court, was informed of her right to respond to Exelon's Motion but did not file an opposing brief.

         I. Legal Standard

         To defeat a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice. Id. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).

         Courts are permitted to consider documents attached to a motion to dismiss "when the document is integral to and explicitly relied on in the complaint, and when the plaintiffs do not challenge the document's authenticity." Zak v. Chelsea Therapeutics Int'l, Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 606-07 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Am. Chiropractic Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004)). The Court will consider the excerpts of the Plan that were attached to Exelon's Motion to Dismiss, since it is central to the allegations made in McCarty's complaint and because McCarty, though given the opportunity to do so, has not disputed its authenticity.

         II. Preemption

         Generally, the "well-pleaded complaint" rule requires that a state court complaint allege a federal claim on its face to be removed by a defendant to federal court pursuant to the federal removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (2012). Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 207 (2004). However, where a federal statute completely preempts a state law claim by "wholly displac[ing] the state law cause of action," the cause of action "is in reality based on federal law," and the defendant may remove the action to federal court. Id. at 207-08. ERISA is one statute with such preemptive power, because it creates a "uniform regulatory regime over employee benefit plans" by providing both "substantive regulatory requirements" and remedial procedures for disputes under employee benefit plans. Id. at 208. Accordingly, ERISA specifically provides that it "shall supersede any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan," except when the state law "regulates insurance, banking, or securities." 29U.S.C. § H44(a)-(b).

         Part of ERISA's comprehensive regulatory scheme is an "integrated enforcement mechanism," which is "essential to accomplish Congress' purpose of creating a comprehensive statute for the regulation of employee benefit plans." Davila, 542 U.S. at 208; see 29 U.S.C. § 1132. ERISA therefore provides that an employee benefit plan participant or beneficiary may bring a civil action "to recover benefits due ... under the terms of [the] plan, to enforce . .. rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify ... rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1). "[A]ny state-law cause of action that duplicates, supplements, or supplants the ERISA civil ...


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