Trial Court May Dismiss Estate's Direct Negligence for a Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

In In re Estate of Frappier, 678 So. 2d 884 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996), the decedent's estate filed an action against Health Options, Inc., an health maintenance organization (HMO), and the two Health Options physicians who had provided medical care to Frappier, asserting that medical malpractice had occurred. The trial court had dismissed Frappier's complaint with prejudice. Frappier, 678 So. 2d at 885. The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plan ever existed, agreeing that "this threshold question must be resolved prior to addressing the issue of whether the dismissed counts are preemptable." Id. Nevertheless, the district court was "compelled to address the merits of the trial court's determination that the estate's claims against Health Options are preempted by the federal ERISA statute." Id. at 886. Nor was this exercise simply gratuitous, as reflected in the district court's directive to the trial court, in remanding the case: "Upon an appropriate finding, the trial court may dismiss the estate's direct negligence, corporate liability and implied contract claims for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. However, in no event may the vicarious liability count be dismissed as the same does not 'relate to' an employee benefit plan." Id. at 888.