United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division
CARDIOVASCULAR SURGERY OF ALEXANDRIA, L.L.C., ET AL. Plaintiffs
DONNA L. KERRY, Defendant
SUA SPONTE JURISDICTIONAL BRIEFING ORDER
H.L. PEREZ-MONTES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
the Court is a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment (Doc. 1)
filed by Plaintiffs Cardiovascular Surgery of Alexandria,
L.L.C. (“CSA”) and Tommie Mack Granger
“Plaintiffs”). Plaintiffs seek a declaratory
judgment against pro se Defendant Donna L.
Kerry (“Kerry”), asserting that the
Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (“MVRA”), 18
U.S.C. § 3663A, supersedes the anti-alienation
provisions of Employee Retirement Income Security Act
(“ERISA”) or the Internal Revenue Code
(“IRC”). (Doc. 1, p. 4). Plaintiffs seek
garnishment of Kerry's ERISA benefit plan based on a
state restitution order. (Doc. 1, p. 2). Plaintiffs assert
federal law preempts state law on matters related to ERISA
and that Louisiana courts lack authority to adjudicate this
jurisdiction, because it involves a court's power to hear
a case, can never be forfeited or waived.” Arbaugh
v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006) (citing
Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583
(1999)). The Court has “an independent obligation to
determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in
the absence of a challenge from any party.”
Id.; see also MCG, Inc. v. Great Western Energy
Corp., 896 F.2d 170, 173 (5th Cir. 1990) (“Federal
courts, both trial and appellate, have a continuing
obligation to examine the basis for their jurisdiction. The
issue may be raised by parties, or by the court sua
sponte, at any time.”). Absent subject-matter
jurisdiction, a federal court has no power to adjudicate
claims and must dismiss an action if subject-matter
jurisdiction is lacking. Stockman v. Federal Election
Comm'n, 138 F.3d 144, 151 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing
Veldhoen v. United States Coast Guard, 35 F.3d 222,
225 (5th Cir. 1994)).
the “well-pleaded complaint” rule, an action
arises under federal law “when a federal question is
presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded
complaint.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482
U.S. 386, 392 (1987). A federal district court “shall
have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under
the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. “Congress has
given the lower federal courts jurisdiction to hear,
originally or by removal from a state court, only those cases
in which 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.”
Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers
Vacation Tr. for S. California, 463 U.S. 1, 27-28
(1983). But “the mere presence of a federal issue in a
state cause of action does not automatically confer
federal-question jurisdiction” over a case. Willy
v. Coastal Corp., 855 F.2d 1160, 1168 (5th Cir. 1988)
(quoting Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. v.
Thompson, 478 U.S. at 813)). The party invoking subject
matter jurisdiction in federal court has the burden of
establishing the court's jurisdiction. St. Paul
Reinsurance Co., Ltd. v. Greenberg, 134 F.3d 1250, 1253
(5th Cir. 1998). Here, Plaintiffs bear that
Complaint (Doc. 1) cites federal statutes invoking
declaratory relief and garnishment of an ERISA pension
benefit plan through the MVRA. Thus, subject matter
jurisdiction seemed apparent on the face of the Complaint.
Now, having reviewed the nature of Plaintiffs' claims
with benefit of the additional filings, and having
recommended denial of Plaintiffs' summary judgment under
the MVRA, it is not clear this Court has subject matter
assert declaratory relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201
and 2202. (Doc. 1, p. 5). However, including a request for
declaratory judgment in the Complaint does not create
jurisdiction where it otherwise does not exist. See e.g.
Jolly v. United States, 488 F.2d 35, 36 (5th Cir. 1974)
(“The Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§
2201, 2202, authorizes federal courts to provide declaratory
relief; but it does not of itself confer jurisdiction on the
Declaratory Judgment Act provides:
In a case or controversy within its jurisdiction, . . . any
court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate
pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of
any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not
further relief is or could be sought. Any such declaration
shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree
and shall be reviewable as such.
28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). The fact that Plaintiffs seek a
declaratory judgment does not relieve them of the burden to
show that this Court has jurisdiction. See Marriott
International, Inc. v. Danna, 772 Fed.Appx. 42, 45 (5th
Cir. 2019) (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better
Env't., 523 U.S. 83, 104 (1998)). “That is
because the Declaratory Judgment Act, which allows the
federal courts to issue declaratory relief, ‘is
procedural only.'” Id. (citing Aetna
Life Ins. Co. of Hartford, Conn. V. Haworth, 300 U.S.
227, 240 (1937)).
assert § 514 of ERISA “provides that ERISA
supersedes any and all state laws insofar as they relate to
any employee benefit plan.” (Doc. 1, p. 3). Plaintiffs
assert La. R.S. 13:3881 is preempted by § 514(b), 29
U.S.C. 1144(b). (Doc 1, p. 4). Plaintiffs also claim this
Court's jurisdiction is conferred by 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331 and 1343. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiffs assert
complete preemption under ERISA.
certain exceptions, ERISA generally precludes the assignment
or alienation of covered pension benefit plans. 29 U.S.C.
§ 1056(d)(1). However, “lawsuits against ERISA
plans for run-of-the-mill state-law claims such as unpaid
rent, failure to pay creditors, or even torts committed by an
ERISA plan” are not preempted. Mackey v. Lanier
Collection Agency & Serv., Inc., 486 U.S. 825, 833
(1988) (ERISA § 514(a) preempts Georgia statute
specifically exempting from garnishment any employee benefit
plan subject to ERISA, but does not preempt application of
Georgia general garnishment statute to garnish benefit due
employee under ERISA welfare plan). Moreover, ERISA does not
preempt state laws which assist in the implementation and
enforcement of other federal laws and are consistent with
those other federal laws. See Matter of Arcement,
136 B.R. 425, 430 (Bankr. E.D. La. 1991) (finding that ERISA
does not preempt La. R.S. 20:33 - exempting from liability
except alimony and child support all pensions, tax-deferred
arrangements, and annuity contracts, as defined and to the
same extent prescribed in R.S. 13:3881).
purpose of ERISA is to provide a uniform regulatory regime
over employee benefit plans.” Aetna Health Inc. v.
Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 208 (2004). Therefore, ERISA
contains “expansive” preemption provisions
“which are intended to ensure that employee benefit
plan regulation would be ‘exclusively a federal
concern.'” Id. (quoting Alessi v.
Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc., 451 U.S. 504, 523 (1981)).
Courts therefore broadly apply ERISA's preemption
provisions to accomplish this purpose. See Manning v.
Hayes, 212 F.3d 866, 870 (5th Cir. 2000).
are two types of ERISA preemption: complete preemption under
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a), and conflict preemption under 29
U.S.C. § 1144(a). See Ellis v. Liberty Life Assur.
Co. of Boston, 394 F.3d 262, 275 n.34 (5th Cir. 2004).
The Fifth Circuit has ...