United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
WILLIAM G. YOUNG DISTRICT JUDGE.
Flinn (“Mr. Flinn”) filed suit in Massachusetts
Superior Court, seeking damages from Minnesota Life Insurance
(“Minnesota”), Securian Life Insurance Company,
and Securian Financial Group (individually and collectively,
the “Insurers”) to recover life insurance
benefits due to him under a policy that his late wife, Joyce
Flinn (“Mrs. Flinn”), bought through her
employer. Notice of Removal ¶¶ 1, 4, ECF No. 1
(“Notice”). Although Mr. Flinn's complaint
raised only state law claims, Compl. ¶¶ 83-233, the
Insurers timely removed the case to this Court based on
federal question jurisdiction. Notice ¶¶ 3, 8. The
Insurers insisted that federal question jurisdiction obtained
because Mr. Flinn's “claims ar[o]se out of an
employee welfare benefit plan within the meaning of, subject
to and regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act (“ERISA”), 29. U.S.C. § 1001 et
seq.” Notice ¶ 7. Shortly after removing the
case, the Insurers moved to dismiss Mr. Flinn's complaint
as preempted by ERISA. Defs.'s Mem Support Mot. Dismiss
Compl. (“Defs.'s Mem.”), ECF No. 9. Mr. Flinn
opposed the motion and moved to remand this case to
Massachusetts Superior Court. Pl.'s Mem. Law Support
Opp'n Defs.'s Mot. Dismiss and Cross Mot. Remand
(“Pl.'s Mem.”), ECF No. 15.
threshold matter, this Court DENIES Mr. Flinn's remand
request, ECF No. 16, because it has diversity jurisdiction
even though it lacks federal question jurisdiction. This
Court also DENIES the Insurers' motion to dismiss, ECF
No. 8, because Mr. Flinn's claims do not “relate
to” his late wife's ERISA-covered plan.
considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim,
this Court “take[s] the complaint's well-pleaded
facts as true.” See Barchock v.
CVS Health Corp., 886 F.3d 43, 48 (1st Cir. 2018).
Mrs. Flinn passed away intestate on April 13, 2009. Compl.
¶¶ 17-18. Unbeknownst to Mr. Flinn, Mrs. Flinn had
purchased a life insurance plan (the “Plan”)
through her employer, Fidelity Investments, in the amount of
$250, 000, which was administered by the Insurers.
Id. at ¶¶ 29-31.
Mrs. Flinn passed away, Mr. Flinn and Mrs. Flinn's
sister, Joan Oliveira (“Oliveira”), had several
conversations about Mrs. Flinn's affairs. Id. at
¶ 21. Oliveira, an attorney, caused Mr. Flinn to
(falsely) believe that Mrs. Flinn had died with a valid last
will and testament, which named Oliveira as its sole
beneficiary. Id. While Mrs. Flinn had not named a
beneficiary to the Plan, per the Plan's undisputed terms,
Mr. Flinn was the preference beneficiary. Id. at
¶¶ 42-43. About six months after Mrs. Flinn's
passing, Oliveira contacted the Insurers and directed them to
deal directly with her instead of Mr. Flinn. Id. at
¶ 45. Oliveira presented a forged power of attorney for
Mr. Flinn to the Insurers and claimed to be his attorney.
Id. at ¶ 41. Mr. Flinn, however, had no
knowledge of and did not authorize the power of attorney.
Id. at ¶ 27.
repeatedly -- but unsuccessfully -- attempted to convince the
Insurers to pay the Plan's benefits to someone other than
Mr. Flinn. Id. at ¶¶ 46-49. After her
second attempt, Minnesota requested that Oliveira provide
them with a “letter of authority from the probate court
as well as the tax ID for the estate, to demonstrate her
authority to act on the estate's behalf.”
Id. at ¶ 50. Oliveira never produced any such
proof to the Insurers. Id. at ¶ 51.
in 2011, Oliveira informed Minnesota that Mr. Flinn did want
to claim the Plan's benefits and requested documentation
to begin the process. Id. at ¶ 53. Ultimately,
Minnesota sent a check payable to Mr. Flinn in the amount of
$275, 277.77 -- for the face value of the plan plus interest
--to Oliveira's business address. Id. at
¶¶ 54-59. Up to this point, the Insurers had
discussed this matter only with Oliveira and had never
contacted Mr. Flinn directly. Id. at ¶¶
Flinn's probate proceeding commenced on April 22, 2015,
at which time the probate court appointed Mr. Flinn as the
personal representative of Mrs. Flinn's estate.
Id. at ¶¶ 19, 35. Over the following
months, Mr. Flinn discovered a number of assets -- including
the Plan -- that were designated to pass to him. Id.
at ¶ 37. To Mr. Flinn's dismay, Oliveira had already
diverted them from the estate for her use. Id. Mr.
Flinn thus filed suit in Massachusetts Superior Court to
recover the pilfered assets from Oliveira. Id. at
¶ 38. Oliveira then filed for bankruptcy, which stayed
Mr. Flinn's Superior Court suit. Chapter 7 Voluntary
Pet., In re Oliveira, No. 15-11599 (Bankr. D.N.H.
Oct. 13, 2015), ECF No. 1.
Flinn sent a demand letter to the Insurers on February 23,
2018 requesting the Plan's benefit amount, plus interest,
and attorney's fees as damages for “wrongfully
release[ing]” the benefits to Oliveira. Compl.
¶¶ 77-78 & Ex. A. The Insurers declined to
offer to settle with Mr. Flinn, and, on March 29, 2018, he
commenced this action in Massachusetts Superior Court.
Id. at ¶¶ 79-82.
Flinn filed this complaint alleging that the Insurers
violated Massachusetts law by mishandling the ministerial
task of transferring to him the funds to which he was
undisputedly due. Specifically, Mr. Flinn alleged that the
Insurers were liable for negligence; constructive
trust/breach of fiduciary duty; and violating Massachusetts
General Laws chapter 106, section 4-401, chapter 176D, and
chapter 93A. Id. at ¶¶ 83-233. The
Insurers removed the case to this Court on the basis of
federal question jurisdiction on May 3, 2018. Notice
¶¶ 3, 8. A week later, the Insurers moved to
dismiss Mr. Flinn's complaint for failure to state a
claim, arguing that ERISA preempted his claims. Defs.'s
Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 8. In June 2018, Mr. Flinn not only
opposed the Insurers' motion to dismiss, but also filed a
cross motion to remand the case for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 14;
Pl.'s Mot. Remand, ECF No. 16. After the parties filed
reply briefs, this Court held a hearing on both motions in
September and took the matter under advisement. Electronic
Clerk's Notes, ECF No. 25.