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Claim Under Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices Act for Overcharge on Medical Bill is Preempted by ERISA

In Meyer v. United Healthcare, Ins. Co., No. 20-35407, __F.App’x__, 2021 WL 930258 (9th Cir. Mar. 11, 2021), the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision that Plaintiff-Appellant’s claim that UnitedHealthcare violated Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA) when it overcharged him for treatment after a life-threatening ski accident is preempted by ERISA.

Before the district court, Meyer argued that his claim is not preempted by ERISA because: (1) a United inhouse attorney emailed Meyer’s attorney stating that Meyer is on a small group non-ERISA plan and he filed suit based on that representation; and (2) the UTPA falls under ERISA’s express-preemption provision because it regulates insurance.

The court rejected both arguments because ERISA covers Meyer’s insurance plan: his previous employer engaged United to provide health insurance for its employees, the employer had to ensure a minimum number of employee plan participants, and it paid a portion of the employees’ premiums. Conflict preemption under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a) applies when a state law’s enforcement mechanism conflicts with ERISA’s comprehensive scheme of civil remedies. When conflict preempted, a state-law claim cannot be brought. The court found that Montana’s UTPA civil enforcement provision “provides damages above and beyond those provided in ERISA,” and Meyer’s suit is focused exclusively on a claim-payment dispute covered by ERISA’s civil enforcement scheme. Thus, the UTPA claim is preempted by § 1132.


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*Please note that this blog is a summary of a reported legal decision and does not constitute legal advice. This blog has not been updated to note any subsequent change in status, including whether a decision is reconsidered or vacated. The case above was handled by other law firms, but if you have questions about how the developing law impacts your ERISA benefit claim, the attorneys at Roberts Disability Law, P.C. may be able to advise you so please contact us.

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