The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida held that it does not have jurisdiction to address a claim for improper disclosure of a person’s HIV status by his life insurance provider, instead remanding the question to a Florida state court. In so doing, the Court held the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a federal law, cannot preempt the claim because the defendants had independent legal duties under Florida (state) law.
The plaintiff, a man living with HIV in Florida, filed the claim against Connecticut General Life Insurance (Connecticut General) and one of its employees when the employee disclosed his protected health information in connection with a review of eligibility for long-term disability benefits. Connecticut General moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting the claims were preempted by ERISA. Such preemption requires a showing that (1) the plaintiff could have brought his claim under ERISA and (2) there is no other independent legal duty that is implicated by defendant’s actions. However, since the unauthorized disclosure of HIV status also violates a Florida law and the plaintiff only alleged state law claims, the Court held that Connecticut General failed to satisfy the second prong and that it therefore does not have jurisdiction over the case.
This is significant for similar cases involving unauthorized disclosures of HIV status: whether the claim can be removed to federal court and determined by federal law will largely depend on the particular claim alleged and the relevant law of the state in which the claim is filed.
The Court also held that the employee of Connecticut General, who lives in Texas, cannot be liable in Florida purely based on acts performed for the benefit of her employer.