from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Louisiana
DAVIS, CLEMENT, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.
COSTA, Circuit Judge:
Swenson filed suit in Louisiana state court seeking benefits
from a life insurance policy after her husband passed away.
The insurance company refused to pay based on its belief that
Swenson's husband was not a covered employee at the time
of his death. In seeking to recover the death benefits,
Swenson cited Louisiana statutes imposing certain
requirements on group life policies concerning the rights of
a discharged employee to convert the employer-provided policy
into individual life insurance. La. R.S. 22:942(7), (10).
Although Swenson alleged only state law claims, the insurer
removed the matter to federal court arguing it was completely
preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of
1974 (ERISA). After the case was removed, Swenson added a
claim for equitable relief under ERISA.
district court dismissed Swenson's claims on various
grounds. It held that ERISA preempted the state law claims,
so it dismissed them with prejudice. Because of this finding
of complete preemption, the district court construed the
complaint as seeking recovery of benefits from an ERISA plan.
But that claim was dismissed without prejudice for failure to
exhaust administrative remedies (Swenson has since commenced
the ERISA administrative process). As to the claim for
equitable relief under ERISA, the court dismissed it with
prejudice on the ground that equitable relief is not
available when ERISA provides an adequate legal remedy such
as the provision allowing judicial review of benefit denials
(29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)).
appeal, Swenson challenges only the preemption ruling and
denial of her claim for equitable relief. We review de
novo these dismissals that occurred at the pleading
stage. N. Cypress Med. Ctr. Operating Co. v. Cigna
Healthcare, 781 F.3d 182, 191 (5th Cir. 2015).
does not dispute that the life insurance policy under which
she seeks to recover is an ERISA plan. For such plans,
federal law provides the sole avenue for seeking to recover
benefits. This congressional intent to have ERISA completely
occupy the field converts Swenson's state law claims
seeking to recover policy benefits into a federal claim under
section 502 of ERISA (29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)).
Arana v. Ochsner Health Plan, 338 F.3d 433, 440 (5th
Cir. 2003) (en banc) (citing Metro. Life Ins. Co. v.
Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 66 (1987)).
attempts to avoid this complete preemption by invoking
ERISA's savings clause, which provides that
"[e]xcept as provided in subparagraph (B), nothing in
this subchapter shall be construed to exempt or relieve any
person from any law of any State which regulates insurance,
banking, or securities." 29 U.S.C. § 1144(b)(2)(A).
Swenson emphasizes that the cited exception to the savings
clause, id. § 1144(b)(2)(B), itself excludes
from its carve out a "plan established primarily for the
purpose of providing death benefits." This means,
according to Swenson, that the Louisiana statutes she cites
in seeking to recover death benefits are within the scope of
the savings clause and not preempted.
problem for Swenson is that the savings clause does not allow
state law claims seeking recovery of ERISA benefits to escape
preemption. Quality Infusion Care Inc. v. Humana Health
Plan of Texas Inc., 290 Fed.Appx. 671, 681- 82 (5th Cir.
2008) (citing Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S.
200, 217-18 (2004)); see also Prudential Ins. Co. of Am.
v. Nat'l Park Med. Ctr., Inc., 413 F.3d 897, 913-14
(8th Cir. 2005) (explaining that even a state law saved from
preemption by the savings clause is itself preempted "if
it provides a separate vehicle to assert a claim for benefits
outside" of section 502 of ERISA). It only saves certain
state laws from conflict preemption, which is a federal
defense that can be asserted when a federal law conflicts
with a state law. Quality Infusion, 290 Fed.Appx..
at 681-82. In other words, although the savings clause
preserves a role for certain state laws that regulate
insurance,  state claims that provide a separate
vehicle for seeking benefits from an ERISA plan remain
preempted as such claims must be brought under ERISA's
civil enforcement provision (section 502). Otherwise the
exclusivity and uniformity of that federal remedy would be
undermined. Davila, 542 U.S. at 217-18 ("ERISA
§ 514(b)(2)(A) must be interpreted in light of the
congressional intent to create an exclusive federal remedy in
ERISA § 502(a)."). That is not to say that, when
challenging the lawfulness of the denial of ERISA benefits, a
beneficiary cannot argue that the administrator failed to
comply with applicable laws including any state laws that
retain force because of the savings clause. But that must be
done in the context of ERISA's civil enforcement
provision, a claim that was not ripe when Swenson filed this
suit because she had not engaged in the administrative review
process. Because Swenson's claim for benefits must be
brought under federal law, the district court correctly
dismissed her state law claims seeking the same relief.
availability of that statutory remedy under section 502 of
ERISA also defeats Swenson's claim for equitable relief
under federal law. Equitable relief under ERISA is normally
unavailable "where Congress elsewhere provided adequate
relief for a beneficiary's injury." Varity Corp.
v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489, 515 (1996). Because ERISA's
civil enforcement provision provides a direct mechanism to
address the injury for which Swenson seeks equitable relief,
she cannot assert a separate ERISA claim for breach of
fiduciary duty. Tolson v. Avondale Indus., Inc., 141
F.3d 604, 610 (5th Cir. 1998).
judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.
Kentucky Association of Health
Plans, Inc. v. Miller, 538 U.S. 329 (2003), provides an
example of how the savings clause protects certain state laws
from conflict preemption. Health maintenance organizations
sought a declaratory judgment that ERISA preempted a state
"Any Willing Provider" law that prohibited health
insurers from excluding qualified doctors from their provider
networks. The Supreme Court rejected the preemption defense
because the Kentucky law regulated insurance and thus was
within the scope of the savings clause. Id. at
334-42. Miller did not involve complete preemption
as it was not a case brought to recover ERISA plan benefits.
The same is true of other Supreme Court cases applying the
savings clause. See, e.g., Rush Prudential HMO, Inc. v.
Moran, 536 U.S. 355 (2002) (holding that savings clause
allowed Illinois to enforce law requiring independent medical
review of certain denials of medical benefits); UNUM Life
Insur. Co. v. Ward, 526 U.S. 358 ...