|Syllabus ||Dissent ||Opinion |
FMC CORPORATION, PETITIONER v. CYNTHIA ANN HOLLIDAY
Justice Stevens, dissenting.
The Court's construction of the statute draws a broad and illogical distinction between benefit plans that are funded by the employer (self-insured plans) and those that are insured by regulated insurance companies (insured plans). Had Congress intended this result, it could have stated simply that "all State laws are pre-empted insofar as they relate to any self-insured employee plan." There would then have been no need for the "saving clause" to exempt state insurance laws from the pre-emption clause, or the "deemer clause," which the Court today reads as merely reinjecting into the scope of ERISA's pre-emption clause those same exempted state laws insofar as they relate to self-insured plans.
From the standpoint of the beneficiaries of ERISA plans — who after all are the primary beneficiaries of the entire statutory program — there is no apparent reason for treating selfinsured plans differently from insured plans. Why should a self-insured plan have a right to enforce a subrogation clause against an injured employee while an insured plan may not? The notion that this disparate treatment of similarly situated beneficiaries is somehow supported by an interest in uniformity is singularly unpersuasive. If Congress had intended such an irrational result, surely it would have expressed it in straightforward English. At least one would expect that the reasons for drawing such an apparently irrational distinction would be discernible in the legislative history, or in the literature discussing the legislation.
The Court's anomalous result would be avoided by a correct and narrower reading of either the basic pre-emption clause or the deemer clause.
The Court has endorsed an unnecessarily broad reading of the words "relate to any employee benefit plan" as they are used in the basic pre-emption clause of 514(a). I acknowledge that this reading is supported by language in some of our prior opinions. It is not, however, dictated by any prior holding and I am persuaded that Congress did not intend this clause to cut nearly so broad a swath in the field of state laws as the Court's expansive construction will create.
The clause surely does not pre-empt a host of general rules of tort, contract, and procedural law that relate to benefit plans as well as to other persons and entities. It does not, for example, pre-empt general state garnishment rules insofar as they relate to ERISA plans. Mackey v. Lanier Collection Agency & Service, Inc., 486 U.S. 825 (1988). Moreover, the legislative history of the provision indicates that throughout most of its consideration of pre-emption, Congress was primarily concerned about areas of possible overlap between federal and state requirements. Thus, the bill that was introduced in the Senate would have pre-empted state laws insofar as they "relate to the subject matters regulated by this Act," [n.1] and the House bill more specifically identified state laws relating "to the fiduciary, reporting, and disclosure responsibilities of persons acting on behalf of employee benefit plans." [n.2] Although the compromise that produced the statutory language "relate to any employee benefit plan" is not discussed in the legislative history, the final version is perhaps best explained as an editorial amalgam of the two bills rather than as a major expansion of the section's coverage.
When there is ambiguity in a statutory provision preempting state law, we should apply a strong presumption against the invalidation of well-settled, generally applicable state rules. In my opinion this presumption played an important role in our decisions in Fort Halifax Packing Co. v. Coyne, 482 U.S. 1 (1987), and Mackey v. Lanier Collection Agency & Service, Inc., supra. Application of that presumption leads me to the conclusion that the pre-emption clause should apply only to those state laws that purport to regulate subjects regulated by ERISA or that are inconsistent with ERISA's central purposes. I do not think Congress intended to foreclose Pennsylvania from enforcing the anti subrogation provisions of its state Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act against ERISA plans — most certainly, it did not intend to pre-empt enforcement of that statute against self-insured plans while preserving enforcement against insured plans.
Even if the "relate to" language in the basic pre-emption clause is read broadly, a proper interpretation of the carefully drafted text of the deemer clause would caution against finding pre-emption in this case. Before identifying the key words in that text, it is useful to comment on the history surrounding enactment of the deemer clause.
The number of self-insured employee benefit plans grew dramatically in the 1960's and early 1970's. [n.3] The question whether such plans were, or should be, subject to state regulation remained unresolved when ERISA was enacted. It was, however, well recognized as early as 1967 that requiring self-insured plans to comply with the regulatory requirements in state insurance codes would stifle their growth:
"Application of state insurance laws to uninsured plans would make direct payment of benefits pointless and in most cases not feasible. This is because a welfare plan would have to be operated as an insurance company in order to comply with the detailed regulatory requirements of state insurance codes designed with the typical operations of insurance companies in mind. It presumably would be necessary to form a captive insurance company with prescribed capital and surplus, capable of obtaining a certificate of authority from the insurance department of all states in which the plan was `doing business,' establish premium rates subject to approval by the insurance department, issue policies in the form approved by the insurance department, pay commissions and premium taxes required by the insurance law, hold and deposit reserves established by the insurance department, make investments permitted under the law, and comply with all filing and examination requirements of the insurance department. The result would be to reintroduce an insurance company, which the direct payment plan was designed to dispense with. Thus it can be seen that the real issue is not whether uninsured plans are to be regulated under state insurance laws, but whether they are to be permitted." Goetz, Regulation of Uninsured Employee Welfare Plans Under State Insurance Laws, 1967 Wis. L. Rev. 319, 320-321 (emphasis in original).
In 1974 while ERISA was being considered in Congress, the first state court to consider the applicability of state insurance laws to self-insured plans held that a self-insured plan could not pay out benefits until it had satisfied the licensing requirements governing insurance companies in Missouri and thereby had subjected itself to the regulations contained in the Missouri insurance code. Missouri v. Monsanto Co., Cause No. 259774 (St. Louis Cty. Cir. Ct., Jan. 4, 1973), rev'd, 517 S. W. 2d 129 (Mo. 1974). Although it is true that the legislative history of ERISA or the deemer clause makes no reference to the Missouri case, or to this problem — indeed, it contains no explanation whatsoever of the reason for enacting the deemer clause — the text of the clause itself plainly reveals that it was designed to protect pension plans from being subjected to the detailed regulatory provisions that typically apply to all state-regulated insurance companies — laws that purport to regulate insurance companies and insurance contracts.
The key words in the text of the deemer clause are "deemed," "insurance company," and "purporting." [n.4] It provides that an employee welfare plan shall not be deemed to be an insurance company or to be engaged in the business of insurance for the purpose of determining whether it is an entity that is regulated by any state law purporting to regulate insurance companies and insurance contracts.
Pennsylvania's insurance code purports, in so many words, to regulate insurance companies and insurance contracts. It governs the certification of insurance companies, Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 40, 400 (Purdon 1971), their minimum capital stock and financial requirements to do business, 386 (Pur don 1971 and Supp. 1990-1991), their rates, e. g., 532.9 (Purdon 1971) (authorizing Insurance Commissioner to regulate minimum premiums charged by life insurance companies), and the terms that insurance policies must, or may, include, e. g., 510 (Purdon 1971 and Supp. 1990-1991) (life insurance policies), 753 (Purdon 1971) (health and accident insurance policies). The deemer clause prevents a State from enforcing such laws purporting to regulate insurance companies and insurance contracts against ERISA plans merely by deeming ERISA plans to be insurance companies. But the fact that an ERISA plan is not deemed to be an insurance company for the purpose of deciding whether it must comply with a statute that purports to regulate "insurance contracts" or entities that are defined as "insurance companies" simply does not speak to the question whether it must nevertheless comply with a statute that expressly regulates subject matters other than insurance.
There are many state laws that apply to insurance companies as well as to other entities. Such laws may regulate some aspects of the insurance business, but do not require one to be an insurance company in order to be subject to their terms. Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act is such a law. The fact that petitioner's plan is not deemed to be an insurance company or an insurance contract does not have any bearing on the question whether petitioner, like all other persons, must nevertheless comply with the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act.
If one accepts the Court's broad reading of the "relate to" language in the basic pre-emption clause, the answer to the question whether petitioner must comply with state laws regulating entities including but not limited to insurance companies depends on the scope of the saving clause. [n.5] In this case, I am prepared to accept the Court's broad reading of that clause but it is of critical importance to me that the category of state laws described in the saving clause is broader than the category described in the deemer clause. A state law "which regulates insurance," and is therefore exempted from ERISA's pre-emption provision by operation of the saving clause, does not necessarily have as its purported subject of regulation an "insurance company" or an activity that is engaged in by persons who are insurance companies. Rather, such a law may aim to regulate another matter altogether, but also have the effect of regulating insurance. The deemer clause, by contrast, reinjects into the scope of ERISA pre-emption only those state laws that "purport to" regulate insurance companies or contracts — laws such as those which set forth the licensing and capitalization requirements for insurance companies or the minimum required provisions in insurance contracts. While the saving clause thus exempts from the pre-emption clause all state laws that have the broad effect of regulating insurance, the deemer clause simply allows pre-emption of those state laws that expressly regulate insurance and that would therefore be applicable to ERISA plans only if States were allowed to deem such plans to be insurance companies.
Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act fits into the broader category of state laws that fall within the saving clause only. The Act regulates persons in addition to insurance companies, and affects subrogation and indemnity agreements that are not necessarily insurance contracts. Yet because it most assuredly is not a law "purporting" to regulate any of the entities described in the deemer clause — "insurance companies, insurance contracts, banks, trust companies, or investment companies," the deemer clause does not by its plain language apply to this state law. Thus, although the Pennsylvania law is exempted from ERISA's preemption provision by the broad saving clause because it "regulates insurance," it is not brought back within the scope of ERISA pre-emption by operation of the narrower deemer clause. I therefore would conclude that petitioner is subject to Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act.
I respectfully dissent.
1 S. 4, 93d Cong., 1st Sess., 609(a) (1973), reprinted at 1 Legislative History of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (Committee Print compiled by the Subcommittee on Labor of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare) 93, 186 (1976) (Leg. Hist.).
2 H. R. 2, 93d Cong., 1st Sess., 114 (1973); 1 Leg. Hist. 51.
3 See Comment, State Regulation of Noninsured Employee Welfare Benefit Plans, 62 Geo. L. J. 339, 340 (1973).
"Neither an employee benefit plan . . . nor any trust established under such a plan, shall be deemed to be an insurance company or other insurer, bank, trust company, or investment company or to be engaged in the business of insurance or banking for purposes of any law of any State purporting to regulate insurance companies, insurance contracts, banks, trust companies, or investment companies." (Emphasis added).
"Except as provided in subparagraph (B) nothing in this subchapter shall be construed to exempt or relieve any person from any law of any State which regulates insurance, banking, or securities."