United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALISTAIR E. NEWBERN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Crystal Meriwether initiated this action on August 12, 2016,
by filing a civil warrant summoning Defendant Metropolitan
Life Insurance Company (MetLife) to appear in the
Metropolitan General Sessions Court of Davidson County,
Tennessee. (Doc. No. 1-1, PageID# 4.) The warrant states the
cause of action as:
Breach of Life Insurance contract to pay death benefit to
Plaintiff Beneficiary under Claim #20151001325 policy owned
by Peter Meriwether, Jr. Defendant wrongfully paid two
claimants falsely fil[ing] fraudulent claims, two-thirds of
the policy benefits. The insurance company through negligence
and bad faith paid claimants who were not children of the
(Id.) The warrant seeks recovery on these claims and
a reasonable attorney's fee in an amount “under
$50, 000.00 Dollars.” (Id.) Although the
complaint provides no further detail, later filings show that
Meriwether challenges MetLife's equal division of Peter
Meriwether's death benefits among herself, Ciera Holman,
and Angeline Hughes-each of whom claims to be Peter
Meriwether's daughter. (Doc. No. 16.) Meriwether asserts
that she is Peter Meriwether's only heir, that the full
amount of his policy should have been paid to her, and that
MetLife was negligent in failing to require birth
certificates or other documentation from Holman and Hughes
before paying their claims. (Id.)
removed the action to this Court on September 8, 2016,
asserting federal question jurisdiction over Meriwether's
claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 2.)
In its notice of removal, MetLife argues that federal
jurisdiction exists because “[t]he subject life
insurance policy was provided pursuant to the Federal
Employees Group Life Insurance Act” (FEGLIA);
“[f]ederal law governs the payment of life insurance
benefits and the order of precedence under FEGLIA [(citing 5
U.S.C. § 8705)]”; “FEGLIA life insurance
benefits are administered and adjudicated by MetLife's
Office of Federal Employees Group Life Insurance pursuant to
a contract between the United States Office of Personnel
Management and MetLife”; and “[d]istrict courts
of the United States have original jurisdiction over civil
actions or claims arising under FEGLIA [(citing 5 U.S.C.
§ 8715)].” (Id.)
answered Meriwether's complaint on September 15, 2016,
and asserted a counterclaim against Meriwether and a
third-party complaint against Holman and Hughes. (Doc. No.
6.) MetLife claims that, in the absence of a designated
beneficiary and without knowledge of any competing claims, it
paid Peter Meriwether's benefits in good faith and in
accordance with the order of precedence determined by FEGLIA.
(Id.) To the extent Meriwether may be determined to
be the only proper beneficiary of Peter Meriwether's
policy, MetLife seeks a setoff in the amounts it paid to
Holman and Hughes. (Id.)
parties litigated this case through discovery and completed
briefing on MetLife's motion for summary judgment. (Doc.
Nos. 21-24, 28-32, 34.) On February 21, 2017, the case was
transferred to the undersigned magistrate judge for all
further proceedings by the consent of all parties. (Doc. Nos.
36, 37.) The Court subsequently raised, sua sponte,
its concern over the propriety of the removal in light of the
lack of any apparent grounds for federal jurisdiction in
Meriwether's complaint. (Doc. No. 40.) The Court directed
MetLife, as the removing party, to show cause why the Court
has jurisdiction over the action and invited any other party
to respond to MetLife's position. (Id.) On
November 6, 2017, MetLife responded to the Court's show
cause order. (Doc. No. 41.) No other party addressed the
Court finds that it does not have jurisdiction to consider
this case further and will order its remand to state court.
28 U.S.C. § 1441, “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
or the defendants, to the district court of the United States
for the district and division embracing the place where such
action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). District
courts have federal question jurisdiction over “all
civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
A matter “arises under” federal law if “a
well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law
creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right
to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial
question of federal law.” Empire Healthchoice
Assurance v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 690 (2006) (quoting
Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr. for S.
Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)). Just as is required of
cases initially filed in federal court, the federal right
“must be an element, and an essential one, of the
plaintiff's cause of action.” Phillips
Petroleum Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 415 U.S. 125, 128 (1974).
It must be found “upon the face of the complaint,
unaided by the answer” and cannot be anticipated in a
probable defense. Id.
removal of state law claims that implicate federal issues
“captures the commonsense notion that a federal court
ought to be able to hear claims recognized under state law
that nonetheless turn on substantial questions of federal
law, and thus justify resort to the experience, solicitude,
and hope of uniformity that a federal forum offers on federal
issues.” Grable & Sons Metal Prod., Inc. v.
Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 310 (2005).
However, “[t]he removal jurisdiction of the federal
courts is to be ‘scrupulously confined.'”
Nixon v. James, 174 F.Supp.2d 739, 742 (M.D. Tenn.
2001) (quoting Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v.
Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 109 (1941)). Cases removed from
state court must be scrutinized for “any disruptive
portent” of the exercise of federal jurisdiction to the
balance between state and federal authority. Grable,
545 U.S. at 313-14. This creates a “strict
policy” against retaining federal jurisdiction when to
do so would threaten “the sovereignty of state
governments and state judicial power.” Nixon,
174 F.Supp.2d at 742.
first steps of determining whether Meriwether's claims
“arise under” federal law are easily resolved.
The warrant filed in state court does not invoke a federal
cause of action; it alleges only that MetLife breached an
insurance contract by negligently and in bad faith paying
policy proceeds to two claimants who fraudulently claimed to
be children of the insured. (Doc. No. 1-1, PageID# 4.)
MetLife argues that 5 U.S.C. § 8715 confers on federal
district courts “original jurisdiction . . . of a civil
action . . . founded on [FEGLIA].” (Doc. No. 41,
PageID# 506.) But MetLife omits critical words from the
statute, which reads in full: “The district courts of
the United States shall have original jurisdiction,
concurrent with the United States Court of Federal Claims, of
a civil action or ...