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James Burchett v. Life Insurance Company of North America

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


December 28, 2011

JAMES BURCHETT,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA, APPLE COMPUTER, INC.,
DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT APPLE'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Defendant Apple Computer, Inc. ("Apple") moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's breach of agreement claim, arguing this claim arises from an ERISA-governed long term disability insurance policy and is therefore preempted by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). (Mot. 1:4-12.)

Plaintiff's opposition brief and complaint reveal this claim concerns Plaintiff's request for long term disability payments to which Plaintiff contends he is entitled "under ERISA." (Compl. ¶ 9; Opp'n 4:3-4.) Further, Plaintiff concedes in his opposition brief that his breach of agreement claim concerns long term disability benefits in his "employment compensation package with Apple[;]" and Plaintiff argues since Defendant Life Insurance Company of North America denied his long term disability claim, he "sued Apple for breach of the employment agreement because of this denial." (Opp'n 4:19-22.)

"ERISA regulates employee benefit plans in order to promote the interests of employees and their beneficiaries." Bast v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 150 F.3d 1003, 1007 (9th Cir. 1998) "[A] state law cause of action is preempted by ERISA if it 'relates to' an employee benefit plan." Id. (citing 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a)). A claim "relates to" an ERISA plan "if it has a connection with or reference to such a plan." Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. McClendon, 498 U.S. 133, 139 (1990) (citation omitted). "The Supreme Court has held that ERISA preempts state common law . . . contract causes of action asserting improper processing of a claim for benefits under an insured benefit plan." Bast, 150 F.3d at 1007 (citing Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41, 57 (1987)).

Since Plaintiff's breach of agreement claim against Apple arises from Defendant Life Insurance Company of North America's denial of Plaintiff's ERISA long term disability claim, Plaintiff's breach of agreement claim against Apple "relates to" the ERISA plan at issue in this case and is preempted by ERISA. Therefore, Apple's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

20111228

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