All Caps Moves Case to Federal Jurisdiction

April 30, 2004 ( - A former Exxon Mobil Corp employee's claim that she was defamed when fired by the company for allegedly stealing company property will be heard in federal court.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Texas agreed with Exxon Mobil that the former worker’s claim amounted to anEmployee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) issue and thus should be heard in federal court.   With this determination, the court denied the former employee’s motion to remand the case back to state court.

Cheryl Carvin, the ex-Exxon Mobil worker, had petitioned the court to remand the case back to state court, contending a federal court lackedjurisdiction because she did not intend to bring a cause of action under ERISA and did not mention ERISA in her petition.   However, Judge Xavier Rodriguez, writing for the court, sided with Exxon Mobil, who removed the case to federal court after receiving Carvin’s original petition.

In the original defamation case, which Carvin filed in Texas state court, she alleged thatas a direct result of Exxon Mobil’s acts, she lost her job and her benefits.   In the last section of the petition, it stated, in capital letters, ” CHERYL CARVIN HEREBY SUES FOR ALL CAUSES OF ACTION WHICH SHE IS ENTITLED TO BRING FOR WRONGFUL TERMINATION AND DISCRIMINATION, SELF COMPELLED DEFAMATION AND TERMINATION TO AVOID PAYING BENEFITS.”

Exxon Mobil contends such language amounts to a claim underERISA Section 510, and thus state court was preempted by the federal statute.   Rodriguez agreed, “T hus, on the face of the complaint, Plaintiff alleges a cause of action for wrongful termination to avoid paying benefits. This claim is preempted by ERISA and thus removal jurisdiction exists,” the opinion stated.

The case is Carvinv. Exxon Mobil Corp., Western District Texas, No. SA-04-CA-138-XR.