Rokohl v. Texaco, Inc., No. 95-40276

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore REYNALDO G. GARZA, WIENER and STEWART; WIENER
Citation77 F.3d 126
Decision Date11 March 1996
Docket NumberNo. 95-40276
Parties5 A.D. Cases 503, 7 NDLR P 409, Pens. Plan Guide P 23918N Monroe R. ROKOHL, Plaintiff-Counter-Defendant-Appellant, v. TEXACO, INC., Defendant-Counter-Claimant-Appellee.

Page 126

77 F.3d 126
5 A.D. Cases 503, 7 NDLR P 409, Pens. Plan
Guide P 23918N
Monroe R. ROKOHL, Plaintiff-Counter-Defendant-Appellant,
v.
TEXACO, INC., Defendant-Counter-Claimant-Appellee.
No. 95-40276.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
March 11, 1996.
Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied April
10, 1996.

Page 127

Larry R. Daves, Larry R. Daves and Associates, San Antonio, TX, for Rokohl.

Bruce D. Viles, Wood, Burney, Cohn and Viles, Corpus Christi, TX, for Texaco, Inc.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before REYNALDO G. GARZA, WIENER and STEWART, Circuit Judges.

WIENER, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-Appellant Monroe R. Rokohl filed suit against his employer, Defendant-Appellee Texaco, Inc., alleging inter alia that Texaco wrongfully dismissed him because of his disability, in violation of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), 1 and that Texaco had discharged him to avoid paying him maximum retirement benefits, in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). 2 The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Texaco on the TCHRA claim, reasoning that the claim was preempted by ERISA; and, after a one-day bench trial, the court granted Texaco's motion for a directed verdict on Rokohl's ERISA claim. Rokohl appeals only from the grant of summary judgment on his TCHRA claim. Concluding that ERISA does not preempt Rokohl's TCHRA claim, we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing that claim and remand for further proceedings in the district court consistent with this opinion.

I.

FACTS

The essentially undisputed facts, with all inferences presented in the light most favorable to Rokohl, 3 are as follows: From 1968 to 1990, Rokohl worked for Texaco as a roustabout, a position that primarily entails the maintenance and repair of field lines and equipment; and as a pumper, a position that primarily entails driving around oil fields from well to well gauging volumes of production and checking for mechanical problems with equipment. In 1969, Rokohl started to experience epileptic seizures, the frequency and severity of which increased over time. After Rokohl suffered a seizure while driving a company truck in 1986, a Texaco physician restricted him to performing tasks that did not involve driving, climbing, or working near open machinery. Texaco continued to employ Rokohl after his on-the-job seizure, although the parties dispute the precise capacity in which he served after the imposition of the medical restrictions.

In 1988 and 1989, Texaco granted Rokohl any number of brief medical leaves of absence pursuant to the company's Short-Term Disability (STD) Plan. When Rokohl returned to work after one of these leaves, he suffered yet another seizure and had to be driven home by a co-worker. The following day, a Texaco executive instructed Rokohl not to return to work until he had received a complete medical release and was able to perform the full range of duties of a roustabout.

Page 128

In November of 1989, Rokohl underwent epilepsy surgery. The surgery initially proved unsuccessful: Rokohl's seizures continued, and he began to experience psychiatric problems. In March of 1990, physicians treating Rokohl notified Texaco that he could resume employment on the condition that he continue to avoid driving, climbing, and operating hazardous machinery. Shortly thereafter, Rokohl reported to Texaco's field office and asked to be assigned to a roustabout crew. The Texaco supervisor on duty, observing that Rokohl was trembling and unable to carry on a coherent conversation, sent him home on sick leave. Texaco officials again informed Rokohl that he should not return to work until he was able to resume, without medical restrictions, the duties of a roustabout.

In July of 1990, when Rokohl's eligibility for benefits under the STD plan expired, Texaco's division manager recommended that Rokohl be approved for benefits under the company's Long-Term Disability Plan, an ERISA-qualified "employee welfare benefit plan." 4 Significant for our consideration today, under Texaco policy, the grant of LTD benefits constitutes a termination of employment with that company.

In response to the division manager's recommendation, Texaco's LTD plan administrator terminated Rokohl's employment upon finding him eligible under the provisions of the LTD plan. 5 As a result, Rokohl was "granted" monthly LTD benefits, albeit without his having applied therefor, effective October of 1990. Texaco forthrightly concedes that this action constitutes termination of employment.

II.

PROCEEDINGS

Shortly after Rokohl was thus discharged, he filed written complaints with the Texas Commission of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC), alleging that Texaco had discriminated against him because of his disability. After exhausting all administrative remedies, Rokohl filed suit against Texaco in Texas state court, alleging inter alia that Texaco had (1) discharged him because of his disability, in violation of the TCHRA, and (2) dismissed him to avoid paying maximum retirement benefits, in violation of ERISA. The suit was removed to federal district court on diversity grounds in March of 1992. 6

Approximately two years later, Texaco moved for summary judgment on all of Rokohl's claims. The district court denied the motion with regard to the ERISA claim, but granted summary judgment for Texaco on each of Rokohl's remaining claims--including the TCHRA claim, which the court held was preempted by ERISA. In February of 1995, a one-day bench trial was held on the ERISA

Page 129

claim. 7 After Rokohl had presented his case, Texaco moved for a directed verdict. The district court granted Texaco's motion and entered final judgment for Texaco. Rokohl timely appealed, challenging only the grant of summary judgment on his TCHRA claim.

III.

ANALYSIS

A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we view the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party 8; and we apply the same standards as those governing the lower court in its determination. 9 Summary judgment must be granted if a court determines "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." 10

B. ERISA PREEMPTION

Section 514(a) of ERISA states that the statute "shall supersede any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan" that is covered by ERISA. 11 Courts have interpreted this preemption clause broadly, observing that its deliberatively expansive language was designed "to establish pension plan regulation as exclusively a federal concern." 12

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20 practice notes
  • Washington v. Occidental Chemical Corp., No. CIV. A. G-97-525.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • October 6, 1998
    ...plans, even if they are not specifically designed to have that effect or do so only indirectly, are preempted. Rokohl v. Texaco, Inc., 77 F.3d 126, 129 (5th Cir.1996). This preemption may extend to state law fraud claims. See Smith v. Texas Children's Hospital, 84 F.3d 152, 156-57 (5th Cir.......
  • Heck v. Board of Trustees, Kenyon College, No. C-2-96-1050.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • June 17, 1998
    ...her ERISA benefits or that the motive for discharging her was to avoid paying her ERISA benefits. See, e.g., Rokohl v. Texaco, Inc., 77 F.3d 126, 129-30 (5th Cir.1996) (employer may not use its ERISA plan as "gimmick" to trigger preemption and thereby avoid litigation in state cou......
  • Ashley Healthcare Plan v. Dillard (In re Guardianship of O.D.), No. 2014–CA–00322–SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • August 6, 2015
    ...if that law was not specifically designed to affect such plans, and even if its effect is only indirect." Rokohl v. Texaco, Inc., 77 F.3d 126, 129 (5th Cir.1996) (citing Rozzell v. Sec. Servs., Inc., 38 F.3d 819, 821 (5th Cir.1994) ). Nonetheless, ERISA preemption is not all-encompassi......
  • General Motors Corp. v. Smith, No. 31425.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 25, 2004
    ...relationship with [an employer] and not her administrator/beneficiary relationship with the company.'" Rokohl v. Texaco, Inc., 77 F.3d 126, 129 (5th Cir.1996) (citations omitted). This is because "an employer may not use its ERISA plan as a `gimmick' to trigger preemption and ther......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Washington v. Occidental Chemical Corp., No. CIV. A. G-97-525.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • October 6, 1998
    ...plans, even if they are not specifically designed to have that effect or do so only indirectly, are preempted. Rokohl v. Texaco, Inc., 77 F.3d 126, 129 (5th Cir.1996). This preemption may extend to state law fraud claims. See Smith v. Texas Children's Hospital, 84 F.3d 152, 156-57 (5th Cir.......
  • Heck v. Board of Trustees, Kenyon College, No. C-2-96-1050.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • June 17, 1998
    ...her ERISA benefits or that the motive for discharging her was to avoid paying her ERISA benefits. See, e.g., Rokohl v. Texaco, Inc., 77 F.3d 126, 129-30 (5th Cir.1996) (employer may not use its ERISA plan as "gimmick" to trigger preemption and thereby avoid litigation in state cou......
  • Ashley Healthcare Plan v. Dillard (In re Guardianship of O.D.), No. 2014–CA–00322–SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • August 6, 2015
    ...if that law was not specifically designed to affect such plans, and even if its effect is only indirect." Rokohl v. Texaco, Inc., 77 F.3d 126, 129 (5th Cir.1996) (citing Rozzell v. Sec. Servs., Inc., 38 F.3d 819, 821 (5th Cir.1994) ). Nonetheless, ERISA preemption is not all-encompassi......
  • General Motors Corp. v. Smith, No. 31425.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 25, 2004
    ...relationship with [an employer] and not her administrator/beneficiary relationship with the company.'" Rokohl v. Texaco, Inc., 77 F.3d 126, 129 (5th Cir.1996) (citations omitted). This is because "an employer may not use its ERISA plan as a `gimmick' to trigger preemption and ther......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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