X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Anita McGowin appeals the dismissal of her state law fraud and conspiracy claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The district court held her claims to be completely preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. �1001 et seq. , and decided, as a result, that federal jurisdiction was proper and that McGowin cannot seek relief in federal court without first pursuing an administrative remedy. HOLDING:Affirmed. McGowin may characterize her cause of action as arising under the common law of fraud, but she seeks a determination of her eligibility for benefits under an ERISA-governed plan, and she prays for relief specifically provided by ERISA �502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. �1132(a)(1)(B). Such a claim is completely preempted by ERISA and is removable to federal court. The district court also correctly determined that McGowin’s ERISA claims are barred by her failure to exhaust administrative remedies. “[C]laimants seeking benefits from an ERISA plan must first exhaust available administrative remedies under the plan before bringing suit to recover benefits.” Bourgeois v. Pension Plan for Employees of Santa Fe Int’l Corp. , 215 F.3d 475 (5th Cir. 2000). McGowin does not dispute that she failed to initiate an administrative claim for benefits with ExxonMobil. Rather, she argues that her failure to do so should be excused on the ground that administrative review would be futile and that she was denied “meaningful access” to the review process. A failure to show hostility or bias on the part of the administrative review committee is fatal to a claim of futility. McGowin makes no such showing. Instead, she argues that representations made to her by ExxonMobil during the course of her employment conclusively establish the company’s position that she is not eligible for benefits. In Bourgeois, this court rejected a similar claim, reasoning that statements made by a high-ranking company officer do not conclusively show that an administrative committee would reject a claim for benefits. Similarly, statements made by ExxonMobil employees who are not responsible for adjudicating benefits claims does not show that McGowin’s claim would be futile if she properly presented it for administrative review. The futility exception does not apply. Moreover, McGowin’s conclusional allegation that she was denied “meaningful access” to the administrative process is unpersuasive. She argues that she lacked the requisite information to file a claim, because her status as a third-party employee left her ineligible to receive a copy of the governing plan documents. As a result, McGowin argues, she did not know how, or to whom, her claims should be presented. There is no indication that McGowin requested the plan documents or was told specifically that she could not obtain them. Moreover, it strains credulity to think that McGowin — whether through counsel or not — possesses the sophistication to pursue a suit in state and federal courts but lacks the basic capacity to ask a plan administrator for information on the filing of a claim. This contention is meritless. OPINION:Smith, J.; Smith, DeMoss and Stewart, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.