The opinion of the court was delivered by: Walker, District Judge.
This action originated in 1994, when plaintiff Peter Nasca
filed for the dissolution of his marriage to plaintiff Denise
Nasca in Contra Costa Superior Court. California Family Code §
2337(c)(6)(A) requires that a party's retirement or pension plan
be joined as a party to a divorce proceeding. On December 10,
1997, plaintiffs joined Peter Nasca's employer, PeopleSoft, as a
party pursuant to section 2337. PeopleSoft manages Mr. Nasca's
retirement plan, which is regulated by the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. ("ERISA").
On December 18, 1997, defendant removed the action to this
court. On December 23, 1997, defendant filed two motions. The
first sought to sever the pension joinder issue from the divorce
action and remand the divorce action to state court. The second
motion sought dismissal of PeopleSoft as a party pursuant to FRCP
12(b)(6) based on ERISA preemption. On January 7, 1998,
plaintiffs filed a motion to remand the entire case to state
The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge James Larson, who
heard all three motions on January 28, 1998. Magistrate Judge
Larson denied both of defendant's motions and granted plaintiffs'
motion. He also awarded to plaintiff attorney fees related to the
Jurisdiction in this case is controlled by ERISA. Congress
enacted ERISA in 1974 to provide minimum standards to "ensure the
continued well-being and security of millions of employees and
their dependents" who rely upon retirement plans. H.R.Conf.Rep.
No. 93-1280, at 7 (1974). One original protection, codified at
29 U.S.C. § 1056(d), prohibited the alienation or assignment of
pension benefits. As first enacted, the anti-alienation provision
afforded no way for non-employee spouses to recover pension
benefits upon the death of the employee spouse or upon divorce.
In 1984, Congress amended ERISA with the Retirement Equity Act
("REA"), which created an exception to the anti-alienation clause
permitting ERISA beneficiaries to direct their ERISA benefits to
an alternate payee, defined as a spouse, former spouse, child or
other dependent. See 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(k). Under this
procedure, a beneficiary or alternate payee requests the change
by submitting a Domestic Relations Order ("DRO"), usually issued
by a state court, to the plan administrator. The plan
administrator then reviews the DRO to determine whether the DRO
meets the requirements for a Qualified Domestic Relations Order
("QDRO") described in 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(B). These
requirements primarily ensure that the payee designated by the
DRO is a legitimate alternate payee and that the DRO does not
increase the payment burden on the plan or mandate the assignment
of benefits previously assigned by another QDRO. If the plan
administrator determines that the DRO is indeed a QDRO, he will
then direct payment to the alternate payee. If the plan
administrator determines that the DRO does not meet the
requirements of a QDRO, the beneficiary or alternate payee may
appeal the plan administrator's decision to a "court of competent
jurisdiction" under 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(H)(i).
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a) creates two relevant causes of action, one
which has exclusive federal jurisdiction and one which has
concurrent jurisdiction. Section 1132(a)(1)(B) provides that:
[a] civil action may be brought by a participant or
beneficiary to recover benefits due to him under the
terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the
terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future
benefits under the terms of the plan * * *.
And, section 1132(e)(1) grants concurrent jurisdiction to state
and federal courts to decide matters brought under this
Alternatively, a litigant may bring an action under
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3).
A civil action may be brought by a participant,
beneficiary, or fiduciary (A) to enjoin any act or
practice which violates any provision of this
subchapter or the terms of the plan, or (B) to obtain
other appropriate equitable relief (i) to redress
such violations or (ii) to enforce any provisions of
this subchapter or terms of the plan.
Federal district courts have exclusive jurisdiction of actions
brought under this section. See 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1).
The issue before the court concerns the application of these
provisions in light of plaintiffs' motion to remand. In opposing
a motion to remand, the defendant carries the burden of
establishing that removal was proper. See Westinghouse Elec.
Corp. v. Newman & Holtzinger, P.C., 992 F.2d 932, 934 (9th Cir.
1993). The removal statute is strictly construed against removal
jurisdiction. See Gaus v. Miles, 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir.
1992). In areas of law that are traditionally fields of state
regulation, claims are addressed
"with the starting presumption that Congress did not intend to
supplant state law." New York Conf. of Blue Cross v. Travelers
Ins. Co., 514 U.S. 645, 655, 115 S.Ct. 1671, 131 L.Ed.2d 695
Where federal jurisdiction is premised on the
existence of a federal question, removal is proper
only (1) where a federal question appears on the face
of the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint or (2)
where federal law so completely preempts the
plaintiff's state law cause of action that the
complaint necessarily arises under federal law.
Emard v. Hughes Aircraft Co., 153 F.3d 949, 961 (9th Cir. 1998)
(citations omitted). The validity of a removal is normally
analyzed under this two-pronged test. In this instance, the
questions raised by both prongs merge into a single question:
whether the Nascas' joinder of PeopleSoft can ...