Court: State Insurance Enrollment Suit is ERISA-Barred

April 18, 2003 ( - An Ohio appeals court has signed off on a lower-court ruling that ERISA bars an employee breach of fiduciary duty suit over whether her employer didn't enroll her husband in an accident insurance plan.

>The Ohio Court of Appeals ruled that ERISA gives federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over an employee’s fiduciary breach suit concerning her husband’s insurance enrollment, Washington-based legal publisher BNA reported. The appeals body upheld a decision by a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas jurist who agreed to dismiss plaintiff Kathy Page-Walters’ suit at the request of her employer, Discovery Financial Services Inc.

>The appeals court said that when damages asserted against the employer for negligence required reference to an insurance policy and measured the amount of benefits that would have been paid under the policy, there is a definite connection to an employee benefits plan.

>According to the appeals ruling, Page-Walters successfully added her husband Raymond to her medical and dental plans and named him beneficiary on a voluntary personal accident insurance plan. However, she didn’t fill out the enrollment form necessary to cover Raymond Walters under the accident program.

She didn’t find out that her husband was not enrolled as an insured in the voluntary personal accident insurance plan until after he was killed in a car accident in October 1999. Had her husband been successfully enrolled, Page-Walters would have been entitled to $200,000 in benefits under the voluntary personal accident insurance plan, according to the opinion.


>In her suit, Page-Walters claimed Discovery was negligent and breached its fiduciary duty by not giving her all the necessary forms to add her husband to the accident policy. For its part, the company argued that ERISA preempted Page-Walters’ negligence claim because the amount of damages sought was equal to the benefits she would have been paid under the employee benefits plan and the breach of fiduciary duty claim was preempted as it was related to an employee benefits plan.

>The case is Page-Walters v. Discovery Financial Services Inc ., Ohio Ct. App., No. 02AP-899, 4/15/03.