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Saunders v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

January 22, 2015



JOSEPH H. McKINLEY, Jr., Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand [DN 9]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Motion to Remand is DENIED.


Plaintiff Keith Saunders began working for Defendant Ford Motor Company ("Ford") in July 2001. (Compl. [DN 1-2] ¶ 9.) Plaintiff is a member of a bargaining unit, Local 862 of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America ("UAW"). (Id. ¶ 24.) Ford and UAW Local 862 are parties to a collective-bargaining agreement ("CBA"). As a union worker, Plaintiff's employment is governed by the CBA entered into by UAW Local 862 and Ford. Pursuant to the CBA, Ford provides its eligible employees with disability and accident/sickness benefits under a welfare benefit plan, which is governed by ERISA. Ford is the Plan Administrator for the plan, which is self-funded by Ford, and for which Defendant UniCare Life and Health Insurance Company ("UniCare"), acts as the claims processor.

In 2001, while working at Ford's Minnesota facility, Plaintiff sustained work-related injuries, which worsened in 2006. As a result of these injuries, Plaintiff was placed on permanent work restrictions. Plaintiff's workers compensation claim arising from 2001 is still ongoing with Defendant Ford.

In December 2011, Plaintiff was relocated to the Louisville Assembly Plant. Plaintiff alleges that upon relocation, he was stripped of his seniority and placed in a job that violated his work restrictions. According to Plaintiff, he requested accommodations for his disabilities, but Defendant Ford refused to reevaluate him, advising Plaintiff that the company doctors felt as though Plaintiff could "perform the functions of the position without restriction." (Id. ¶ 27.)

On February 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination based on disability and failure to provide reasonable accommodation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). According to Plaintiff, around five days after filing the charge, he was placed on "No Work Available" ("NWA") status and put off of work by Defendant Jeff Marzian[1] ("Marzian"), Superintendent of the Louisville plant, which Plaintiff contends was in violation of the CBA. (Id. ¶ 30-32.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a grievance with his union representative in April 2013, alleging that Defendant Ford had violated the CBA without justification and requesting that Plaintiff receive eighty days' pay for lost wages because of being placed on NWA status.

In spring 2013, Plaintiff, Defendant Ford, through Defendant Karen Morrison ("Morrison"), Labor Relations Supervisor at the Louisville plant, and the EEOC engaged in mediation. As a result of the mediation, Plaintiff was placed back to work in the trim department, in a position which met his work restrictions. Around three weeks later, Ford informed Plaintiff that there was no longer any work available in the trim department and moved him to another department. Plaintiff contends that there was still work available in the trim department at that time and that his new position, although it did not violate his work restrictions, was below his seniority level. (Id. ¶ 39-40.) According to Plaintiff, another employee not named in this action repeatedly harassed Plaintiff while he performed his new job, by making statements like "you're loitering" and "you can't so [sic] shit." (Id. ¶ 41.) As a result of that harassment, Plaintiff states he checked himself into a medical facility for anxiety, depression, and stress, where he stayed for approximately six weeks between October and December 2013. (Id. ¶ 42-44.)

During the time Plaintiff was in the hospital, he received health benefits from Defendant UniCare, pursuant to Ford's self-funded ERISA benefits plan. Plaintiff was released and cleared to return to work around December 16, 2013. Sometime after December 16, 2013, Plaintiff alleges that UniCare stopped paying Plaintiff benefits, despite that Plaintiff was still being treated for depression and anxiety stemming from work related treatment. (Id. ¶ 54.) On January 27, 2014, UniCare started sending Plaintiff benefits again.

Also on December 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed a second grievance with UAW Local 862, which he alleges has not been addressed. Plaintiff contends that he contacted Labor Relations about finding him a position, which in turn contacted Defendant Marzian. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Marzian did not exhaust any zones to find Plaintiff a position and instead immediately placed him on NWA status, which Plaintiff contends was a violation of the CBA. (Id. ¶ 51.) Plaintiff additionally asserts that Defendants Ford and Marzian did not wait for the Job Placement Committee to meet and make a determination regarding Plaintiff before placing him on NWA status, which Plaintiff contends also violated the CBA. (Id. ¶ 52.)

In May 2013, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Morrison refused to place Plaintiff back to work even though allegedly he had been called back to work, because she believed he had signed a worker's compensation agreement and resigned from Defendant Ford. (Id. ¶ 62.) According to Plaintiff, in early June 2014 the UAW informed him that the UAW system showed that Plaintiff had been discharged as of May 16, 2014, when in fact he had not been. (Id. ¶ 63.) Plaintiff states that since that time he was placed in a temporary position in violation of his rights under the CBA.

On July 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed this action in Jefferson Circuit Court against Ford, two of its employees, Marzian and Morrison, and UniCare. In his complaint, Plaintiff raised twelve separate state-law claims against Defendants: (1) disability-based discrimination in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act ("KCRA"), KRS 344.040; (2) retaliation in violation of the KCRA; (3) retaliation for filing a worker's compensation claim in violation of KRS 342.197(1);

(4) wage and hour violations; (5) violation of Kentucky's insurance laws; (6) tortious interference with a contract; (7) violation of KRS 344.045; (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (9) failure to protect; (10) negligent hire/retention/supervision; (11) promissory estoppel; and (12) civil conspiracy.

On August 26, 2014, Defendants removed this action from the Jefferson Circuit Court to this Court alleging federal question jurisdiction. Defendants assert that removal is proper because Plaintiff asserts claims that are completely preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185. (Def.'s Removal Notice [DN 1] ¶ 3.) Additionally, Defendants contend removal is proper because the face of Plaintiff's Complaint asserts a claim for benefits under an employee benefit plan established under and governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq. As this claim falls within ERISA's specific enforcement provision, ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), ERISA completely preempts Plaintiff's claims against UniCare. (Def.'s Removal Notice [DN 1] ¶ 2.)

On September 25, 2014, Plaintiff filed this Motion to Remand [DN 9] the case to Jefferson Circuit Court arguing that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Ford's claim that this Court has jurisdiction based on the LMRA is unavailing. Additionally, Plaintiff contends that Defendant UniCare's argument that ERISA preempts this suit fails as a matter of law because Plaintiff is relying on theories outside the scope and intent of ERISA. As there is not complete diversity between the parties, Plaintiff maintains that the case must be remanded pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).


Under the removal statute, "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant" to federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The party seeking removal bears the burden of establishing that the district court has original jurisdiction. Eastman v. Marine Mech. Corp. , 438 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2006). "If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). One category of cases of which district courts ...

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