672 S.E.2d 242
2. Where an order granting summary judgment to a party completely disposes of any issues of liability as to that party, the absence of language prescribed by Rule 54(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure indicating that no just reason for delay exists and directi[ng] . . . entry of judgment will not render the order interlocutory and bar appeal provided that this Court can determine from the order that the trial court's ruling approximates a final order in its nature and effect. Syllabus Point 2, Durm v. Heck's, Inc., 184 W.Va. 562, 401 S.E.2d 908 (1991).
3. An action by a fiduciary or administrator of a plan under the
Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.,
to obtain appropriate equitable relief to enforce the terms of the ERISA plan pursuant to 29
U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), must be brought in the federal district courts of the United States as
provided for in 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1).
Maynard, Chief Justice: (See footnote 1)
The plaintiffs below and appellants herein, Dylan Turner, Rhiannon Turner, and Ronan Turner, by their next friend and parent Diane Turner, and Diane Turner, individually, brought a petition in the Circuit Court of Berkeley County, pursuant to W.Va. Code § 44-10-14 (2002), for approval of proposed minor settlements reached with the defendants below, Charles Turner, Sr., Charles Turner, Jr., and Laurie Turner, arising from an automobile accident in which Ms. Turner's three minor children were injured. The intervenor below and appellee herein, City Hospital, Inc., intervened in the settlement proceedings to assert subrogation rights to any settlement proceeds collected by Ms. Turner. The appellants are now appealing the circuit court's order of September 26, 2007, that ruled that the court has no jurisdiction under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to decide City Hospital's subrogation rights under the proposed settlement. After careful consideration of this matter, we affirm the circuit court.
By order of September 26, 2007, the circuit court determined that it had jurisdiction to approve or disapprove the proposed settlements pursuant to W.Va. Code § 44- 10-14. However, the circuit court found that it did not have jurisdiction to decide, limit, or enforce City Hospital's subrogation rights. The court reasoned that City Hospital was effectively asking for equitable relief, and that a request for such relief by a fiduciary of an ERISA plan can be brought only in federal district court pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1). The appellants now appeal the circuit court's order to the extent that the court found that it did not have jurisdiction to decide the subrogation issue.
A party to a civil action may appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals from a final judgment of any circuit court or from an order of any circuit court constituting a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all claims or parties upon an express determination by the circuit court that there is no just reason for delay and upon an express direction for the entry of judgment as to such claims or parties.
This Court has indicated that [o]ur jurisdiction is limited by Code, 58-5-1, and we are not warranted in entertaining jurisdiction in cases which do not come within the requirements of that section. Leeson v. Smith, 132 W.Va. 715, 722, 53 S.E.2d 412, 415 (1949). See also Syllabus Point 1, in part, James M.B. v. Carolyn M., 193 W.Va. 289, 456 S.E.2d 16 (1995) ([t]his Court's jurisdictional authority is either endowed by the West Virginia Constitution or conferred by the West Virginia Legislature.). We have further held:
Under W.Va. Code, 58-5-1 , (See footnote 6) appeals only may be taken from final decisions of a circuit court. A case is final only when it terminates the litigation between the parties on the merits of the case and leaves nothing to be done but to enforce by execution what has been determined.
Syllabus Point 3, James M.B., supra.
In the case of Durm v. Heck's, Inc., supra, a shopper brought an action for injuries she suffered in a slip and fall accident which occurred on a sidewalk adjacent to a Foodland in which she sued both Foodland and Heck's, the shopping center owner. The circuit court granted summary judgment on behalf of Foodland, and the plaintiff appealed. Before this Court, Heck's contended that the appeal was improper under Rule 54(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure, which states, in pertinent part:
when . . . multiple parties are involved [in a claim before the court], the court may direct the entry of a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims or parties only upon an express determination that there is no just reason for delay and upon an express direction for the entry of judgment. In the absence of such determination and direction, any order or other form of decision, however designated, which adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties shall not terminate the action as to any of the claims or parties[.]
Heck's argued that the absence of language in the summary judgment order which reflects an express determination that there is no just reason for delay and . . . an express direction for the entry of judgment rendered the judgment interlocutory rather than final in nature.
This Court rejected this argument and explained:
The key to determining whether the order granting summary judgment and dismissing Foodland from this case with prejudice is a final order subject to appeal is not whether the Rule 54(b) language is included in the order, but whether the order 'approximat[es]' a final order in its 'nature and effect.' Taylor v. Miller, 162 W.Va. 265, 269, 249 S.E.2d 191, 194 (1978) (quoting Lloyd v. Kyle, 26 W.Va. 534, 540 (1885)). . . . With the enactment of Rule 54(b), an order may be final prior to the ending of the entire litigation on its merits if the order resolves the litigation as to a claim or a party. See W.Va.R.Civ.P. 54(b); Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b).
An examination of the order entered by the circuit court reveals that the court fully resolved the issue of Foodland's liability by ruling that the claims brought by Plaintiff Cynthia R. Durm arising from her alleged accident . . . may be asserted only against the party then owning the property, Heck's, Inc. By making this ruling and dismissing Foodland with prejudice, there can be no question that as to Foodland the litigation had ended. Accordingly, the order, if not technically final for absence of Rule 54(b) language . . . certainly is final in its nature and effect. Taylor, 162 W.Va. at 268-69, 249 S.E.2d at 194.
Durm, 184 W.Va. at 566, 567, 401 S.E.2d at 912, 913 (footnote omitted). In Syllabus Point 2 of Durm, the Court held:
Where an order granting summary judgment to a party completely disposes of any issues of liability as to that party, the absence of language prescribed by Rule 54(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure indicating that no just reason for delay exists and directi[ng] . . . entry of judgment will not render the order interlocutory and bar appeal provided that this Court can determine from the order that the trial court's ruling approximates a final order in its nature and effect.
We find that the circuit court's order below falls under our rule in Durm.
While the order does not contain any language from Rule 54(b), the circuit court expressly found that it DOES NOT HAVE JURISDICTION to decide, limit, or enforce [City Hospital's] subrogation rights to the Proposed Minor's Settlements Submitted on Behalf of Dylan, Rhiannon, and Ronan Turner because ERISA preempts the state law claims asserted by the Plaintiffs. This finding had the nature and effect of ending the litigation between the appellants and City Hospital with regard to City Hospital's reimbursement/subrogation claim. Therefore, we conclude that the circuit court's order is properly appealable to this Court. Having thus decided, we now proceed to address the substantive issue raised in this case.
In the ERISA context, the doctrines of conflict preemption and complete preemption are important, and they are often confused. Section 514 of ERISA defines the scope of ERISA's preemption of conflicting state laws: state laws are superseded insofar as they relate to an ERISA plan. The fact that a state law claim is preempted by ERISA - i.e., that it conflicts with ERISA's exclusive regulation of employee welfare benefit plans - does not, however, provide a basis for removing the claim to federal court. The only state law claims properly removable to federal court are those that are completely preempted by ERISA's civil enforcement provision, § 502(a).
Sonoco Products Co. v. Physicians Health Plan, 338 F.3d 366, 371 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks, citations, and footnote omitted).
With regard to conflict preemption, 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a) provides that ERISA shall supersede any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan described in section 1003(a) of this title and not exempt under section 1003(b) of this title.
Under conflict preemption, which is also known as ordinary preemption, state laws that conflict with federal laws are preempted, and preemption is asserted as 'a federal defense to the plaintiff's suit. As a defense, it does not appear on the face of a well-pleaded complaint, and, therefore, does not authorize removal to federal court.' Darcangelo. v. Verizon Communications, Inc., 292 F.3d 181, 186-87 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63, 107 S.Ct. 1542, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987)). In terms of ordinary preemption, state laws conflict with ERISA and are therefore preempted by ERISA if they relate to an ERISA plan. 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). In those types of situations, ERISA conflict preemption may be used as a defense to a state-law action, but it does not provide a basis for removal to federal court.
Radcliff v. El Paso Corp., 377 F.Supp.2d 558, 561 (S.D.W.Va. 2005).
The circuit court below did not find that the issue of City Hospital's alleged reimbursement/subrogation rights was preempted under 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). Thus, we do not address preemption under § 1144(a) in this opinion. Rather, the circuit court found that jurisdiction to decide the Plan's request for relief resides only in federal district court pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) (See footnote 7) which provides:
A civil action may be brought _
(3) by a participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary (A) to enjoin any act or practice which violates any provision of this subchapter or the terms of the plan, or (B) to obtain other appropriate equitable relief (i) to redress such violations or (ii) to enforce any provisions of this subchapter or the terms of the plan[.]
According to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1):
Except for actions under subsection (a)(1)(B) (See footnote 8) of this section, the district courts of the United States shall have exclusive jurisdiction of civil actions under this subchapter brought by the Secretary or by a participant, beneficiary, fiduciary, or any person referred to in section 1021(f)(1) of this title. State courts of competent jurisdiction and district courts of the United States shall have concurrent jurisdiction of actions under paragraphs (1)(B) and (7) (See footnote 9) of subsection (a) of this section. (Footnotes added).
In Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200 (2004), the Supreme Court discussed the nature of the enforcement remedies provided for in § 1132(a) as follows:
ERISA's comprehensive legislative scheme includes an integrated system of procedures for enforcement. [Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co. v.] Russell, 473 U.S. , at 147  (internal quotation marks omitted). This integrated enforcement mechanism, ERISA § 502(a), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a), is a distinctive feature of ERISA, and essential to accomplish Congress' purpose of creating a comprehensive statute for the regulation of employee benefit plans. As the Court said in Pilot Life Ins. v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41 (1987):
[T]he detailed provisions of § 502(a) set forth a comprehensive civil enforcement scheme that represents a careful balancing of the need for prompt and fair claims settlement procedures against the public interest in encouraging the formation of employee benefit plans. The policy choices reflected in the inclusion of certain remedies and the exclusion of others under the federal scheme would be completely undermined if ERISA- plan participants and beneficiaries were free to obtain remedies under state law that Congress rejected in ERISA. 'The six carefully integrated civil enforcement provisions found in § 502(a) of the statute as finally enacted . . . provide strong evidence that Congress did not intend to authorize other remedies that it simply forgot to incorporate expressly.' Id., at 54 (quoting Russell, supra, at 146).
Therefore, any state-law cause of action that duplicates, supplements, or supplants the ERISA civil enforcement remedy conflicts with the clear congressional intent to make the ERISA remedy exclusive and is therefore pre- empted. See 481 U.S., at 54-56; see also Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. McClendon, 498 U.S. 133, 143-145 (1990).
Davila, 542 U.S. at 208-209.
Based on the clear language of § 1132(a)(3) in conjunction with § 1132(e)(1), and the Supreme Court's application of these provisions, this Court now holds that an action by a fiduciary or administrator of a plan under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., to obtain appropriate equitable relief to enforce the terms of the ERISA plan pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), must be brought in the federal district courts of the United States as provided for in 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1). We will now address whether a claim by City Hospital for reimbursement or subrogation must be brought under § 1132(a)(3).
In order to qualify for complete preemption under § 1132(a)(3), the relief sought must be equitable in nature. Great-West Life & Annuity Ins. Co. v. Knudson, 534 U.S. 204 (2002). The Supreme Court has explained that,
The term equitable relief [under § 1132(a)(3)] can assuredly mean . . . whatever relief a court of equity is empowered to provide in the particular case at issue. But . . . equitable relief can also refer to those categories of relief that were typically available in equity (such as injunction, mandamus, and restitution, but not compensatory damages).
Mertens v. Hewitt Associates, 508 U.S. 248, 256 (1993). The recent Supreme Court case of Sereboff v. Mid Atlantic Medical Services, Inc., 547 U.S. 356 (2006), is particularly instructive on the issue of whether the relief sought by City Hospital is equitable for the purposes of § 1132(a)(3). In Sereboff, the Supreme Court considered the circumstances in which a fiduciary under [ERISA] may sue a beneficiary for reimbursement of medical expenses paid by the ERISA plan, when the beneficiary has recovered for its injuries from a third party. 547 U.S. at 359. The facts of the case involved a fiduciary seeking reimbursements for amounts an ERISA health plan paid for the medical expenses of beneficiaries, who were injured in an automobile accident, from proceeds of the beneficiaries' settlement with the tortfeasors.
First, the Court distinguished the facts of the case from those in Great-West. In Great-West, the Court explained that equitable relief under § 502(a)(3) requires that the action for restitution must seek not to impose personal liability on the defendant, but to restore to the plaintiff particular funds or property in the defendant's possession. Great- West, 534 U.S. at 214 (footnote omitted). In contrast to Great-West, the fiduciary in Sereboff sought specifically identifiable funds that were in the possession and control of the beneficiaries_the portion of the settlement proceeds collected from the tortfeasors_in contrast to the beneficiaries' general assets. Therefore, the Court in Sereboff concluded that the relief sought by the fiduciary was equitable in nature.
The Court in Sereboff further indicated that the fiduciary also had to show that the basis for its claim was equitable. In deciding that the basis for the fiduciary's plan in Sereboff was equitable, the Court relied on the case of Barnes v. Alexander, 232 U.S. 117 (1914), and explained:
In [Barnes] . . . attorneys Street and Alexander performed work for Barnes, another attorney, who promised them one-third of the contingent fee he expected in the case. Id., at 119. In upholding their equitable claim to this portion of the fee, Justice Holmes recited the familiar rul[e] of equity that a contract to convey a specific object even before it is acquired will make the contractor a trustee as soon as he gets a title to the thing. Id., at 121. On the basis of this rule, he concluded that Barnes' undertaking create[d] a lien upon the portion of the monetary recovery due Barnes from the client, ibid., which Street and Alexander could follow . . . into the hands of . . . Barnes, as soon as [the fund] was identified, id., at 123.
Much like Barnes' promise to Street and Alexander, the Acts of Third Parties provision in the Sereboffs' plan specifically identified a particular fund, distinct from the Sereboffs' general assets _ [a]ll recoveries from a third party (whether by lawsuit, settlement, or otherwise) _ and a particular share of that fund to which [the fiduciary] was entitled _ that portion of the total recovery which is due [the fiduciary] for benefits paid. App. to Pet. for Cert. 38a. Like Street and Alexander in Barnes, therefore, [the fiduciary] could rely on a familiar rul[e] of equity to collect for the medical bills it had paid on the Sereboffs' behalf. Barnes, supra, at 121. This rule allowed them to follow a portion of the recovery into the [Sereboffs'] hands as soon as [the settlement fund] was identified, and impose on that portion a constructive trust or equitable lien. 232 U.S. at 123.
Sereboff, 547 U.S. at 363-364.
In the instant case, the circuit court found in its order that City Hospital is asserting two equitable claims: one claim for reimbursement and another claim to enjoin the distribution of the settlement proceeds. Moreover, the parties do not dispute that the relief sought by City Hospital by intervening in the minor settlement proceeding is equitable in nature. Further, under the express terms of the reimbursement/subrogation provision of City Hospital's plan, City Hospital is not attempting to collect the medical expenses it paid from Ms. Turner's general assets. Rather, City Hospital asserts an equitable lien against a particular fund_any settlement proceeds collected by the appellants from a third party, and a particular share of that fund, to the extent that any medical or other expenses for [the beneficiaries] have been paid under the Plan[.]
Therefore, we find that the relief sought by City Hospital under the reimbursement/subrogation provision of its employee benefit plan, to be reimbursed for settlement proceeds paid on behalf of the plan's beneficiaries, is the type of relief clearly provided for in 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3). In other words, any claim for relief in circuit court arising from the reimbursement/subrogation provision in City Hospital's plan would be duplicative of an action under § 1132(a)(3), and, as noted above, Congress has evinced its intent that the remedies provided for in § 1132(a) are exclusive.
The appellants present several arguments in support of their position that the circuit court has jurisdiction over the relief sought by City Hospital below. Insofar as the bulk of these arguments concern ERISA preemption under § 1144(a), in contrast to § 1132(a)(3), these arguments are not relevant to the issue herein and need not be addressed. However, we find it necessary to address one of the appellants' contentions. Specifically, the appellants contend that under the equitable remedy approved in Sereboff, relief is only available to the fiduciary when the funds sought have become available to the beneficiary or plan participant. The appellants point out that this has not yet occurred, and conclude from this that City Hospital has no remedy under § 1132(a)(3). The appellants further assert that even in the event the settlement is approved, the proceeds will never be recoverable by City Hospital because, under the terms of the proposed settlement, the proceeds will not be paid to Diane Turner but will be placed in trust until her children attain the age of majority. The appellants reason that because no proceeds will ever be available to Ms. Turner, the plan participant, City Hospital will never have a claim under § 1132(a)(3) for a portion of the proceeds.
We find no merit to this argument. First, the fact that City Hospital's federal claim has not yet become ripe for litigation in federal district court does not mean that the circuit court has jurisdiction of the claim. City Hospital recognizes that it cannot seek proceeds that have not yet been paid to Diana Turner. For this reason, City Hospital requested the circuit court below, in the event it approved the appellants' proposed settlement, to preserve the funds in a separate account so that City Hospital may file a civil action in federal district court seeking reimbursement of its portion of the settlement proceeds. Second, W.Va. Code § 44-10-14(g) appears to foreclose the possibility that all the proceeds from a minor settlement can be immediately transferred directly to minor trust accounts and out of the reach of lienholders. According to this subsection:
The court shall enter an order with findings of fact and granting or rejecting the proposed settlement, release and distribution of settlement proceeds. If the requested relief is granted, the court shall provide by order that an attorney appearing in the proceeding or other responsible person shall negotiate, satisfy and pay initial expense payments from settlement proceeds, the costs and fees incurred for the settlement and any bond required therefor, expenses for treatment of the minor related to the injury at issue, payments to satisfy any liens on settlement proceeds, if any, and such other directives as the court finds appropriate to complete the settlement and secure the proceeds for the minor.
Therefore, we do not believe that the fact that no settlement proceeds have yet been paid to Ms. Turner indicates that the circuit court has jurisdiction over City Hospital's reimbursement/subrogation claim.
In sum, we find that City Hospital's request for relief in circuit court is a claim that must be brought in a civil action under § 1132(a)(3), which, according to the express provisions of § 1132(e), must be brought in federal district court. Therefore, the circuit court below properly ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to decide, limit, or enforce City Hospital's subrogation rights to the proposed minor settlements submitted by Ms. Turner on behalf of her children. (See footnote 10)