March 01, 2016

Supreme Court Decides Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company

On March 1, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, No. 14-181, holding that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) pre-empts Vermont’s regulatory scheme requiring disclosure of certain information relating to health care services as it applies to ERISA plans.

The state of Vermont (along with nearly 20 other states) has an all-payer claims database of health-care data, including costs, utilization, and resources provided in Vermont or to Vermont residents in another state. Vermont’s statute and its implementing regulation require health insurers, providers, and facilities and governmental agencies to submit data about the health care services provided. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company maintains a health plan that qualifies as an “employee welfare benefit” plan under ERISA. Vermont issued a subpoena to Liberty Mutual’s third-party administrator Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to provide the data required by Vermont law. Liberty Mutual filed suit in United States District Court seeking a declaration that ERISA pre-empts application of Vermont’s regulatory scheme and a related injunction. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Vermont; a divided Second Circuit reversed, holding that ERISA preempted the state requirement.

The Supreme Court affirmed, upholding ERISA preemption. The Court held that ERISA pre-empts laws that have an “impermissible connection” with ERISA plans — that is, laws that govern or interfere with the uniformity of ERISA plan administration. The federal reporting requirements ERISA imposes on plans are extensive and are “integral aspects of ERISA,” and Vermont’s reporting scheme therefore intrudes on a “fundamental ERISA function.” The Court found that the objective of the Vermont statute did not shield it from preemption. “The state statute imposes duties that are inconsistent with the central design of ERISA, which is to provide a single uniform national scheme for the administration of ERISA plans without interference from laws of the several States even when those laws, to a large extent, impose parallel requirements.”

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan. Justices Thomas and Breyer filed concurring opinions. Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Sotomayor.

Download Opinion of the Court.

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