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Erickson v. Born

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 31, 2017

R. Thomas Erickson, Richard L. Fredrick, Troy D. Gustafson, and William C. Wedebrand, as Union Trustees of the Minneapolis Food Distributing Industry Pension Plan, Plaintiffs,
v.
Jon Born, Tracy McDonald, Sabin Peterson and William Seehafer, as Employer Trustees of the Trust, Defendants.

          Thomas C. Atmore, Esq. and Leonard, O'Brien, Spencer, Gale & Sayre, Ltd, counsel for plaintiffs.

          Michael G. Congin, Esq. and Littler Mendelson, counsel for defendants.

          ORDER

          David S. Doty, Judge United States District Court.

         This matter is before the court upon the motion for remand by plaintiffs R. Thomas Erickson, Richard L. Fredrick, Troy D. Gustafson, and William C. Wedebrand, as Union Trustees of the Minneapolis Food Distributing Industry Pension Plan Trust (Union Trustees).[1] Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court denies the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         This dispute arises out of a trust agreement governing the pension plan for the Minneapolis Food Distributing Industry (Trust Agreement). The Trust Agreement, created in 1969 and amended several times since, was established to provide pension benefits for “employees employed under certain collective bargaining agreements.” Pet. Ex. 1, at 1; id. ¶¶ 1-2. Under its terms, four trustees are appointed to represent the employers of plan participants (Employer Trustees) and four trustees are appointed to represent the unions participating in the pension plan (Union Trustees). Pet. ¶ 4; id. Ex. 1 § 4.8. Employer Trustees are selected by “Employers of a majority of Participants.” Id. Ex. 1 § 4.8; id. Ex. 1, Amendment Nos. 2, 3. “Participants” are defined as “[a]ny Employee or former Employee who is eligible for benefits” under the Trust Agreement. Id. § 1.4. By amendment in February 2015, the Union Trustees are selected by “Teamsters Local 120 pursuant to its internal appointment procedures.” Id. Ex. 1, Amendment No. 3. The trustees “have authority to control and manage the operation and administration” of the underlying pension plan and have “authority to control and manage” the Trust Agreement. Id. Ex. 1 § 1.8. Further, the Trustees are

fiduciaries of the Trust and shall have the power to control the Trust and to perform all such acts, to take all such proceedings, and to exercise all such rights and privileges ... as the Trustee may deem necessary or advisable to administer the Trust or to carry out the purposes of [the Trust] Agreement.

Id. § 6.1. “All questions pertaining to [the] validity or construction [of the Trust Agreement] not otherwise preempted by federal law shall be determined in accordance with the laws of the State of Minnesota. Pet. ¶ 1; id. Ex. 1 § 12.12.

         According to the petition, in December 2015, Employer SuperValu Inc. “removed” the Employer Trustees not employed by SuperValu and replaced them with SuperValu employees. Pet. ¶ 20. SuperValu claimed that it had a right to do so because it employs a majority of the Participants in the pension plan. Id.

         On March 15, 2017, the Union Trustees filed a petition in Hennepin County District Court seeking judicial interpretation and construction of the Trust Agreement under Minn. Stat. Chapter 501C. Specifically, the Union Trustees allege that SuperValu appointed the “purported” Employer Trustees without following the methodology required by the Trust Agreement. Pet. ¶¶ 19-20. They seek a declaration that the “purported Employer Trustees were not and are not validly appointed as Employer Trustees of the Trust [Agreement]” and an order directing (1) removal of the Employer Trustees and (2) the appointment of Employer Trustees using the proper methodology. Id. at 7 ¶¶ 3-4.

         On April 14, 2017, defendants and Employer Trustees Jon Born, Tracy McDonald, Sabin Peterson, and William Seehafer timely removed the petition to this court. The Employer Trustees argue the Union Trustees' claims, although pleaded under Minnesota law, arise exclusively under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and are therefore preempted. The Union Trustees now move to remand.

         DISCUSSION

         A defendant may remove any case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, that invokes the court's original jurisdiction to hear all cases that arise under the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, a complaint that does not contain a federal cause of action cannot be removed to federal court in anticipation of a federal defense. Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63 (1987); Lyons v. Philip Morris Inc., 225 F.3d 909, 912 (8th Cir. 2000). However, if Congress completely preempts an area of state law, the well-pleaded complaint rule does not apply and “any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim.” Lyons, 225 F.3d at 912 (quoting Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987)).

         The Union Trustees' complaint does not expressly plead a federal claim. According to the removal papers, however, the complaint sets forth a standard claim under ERISA § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3). ECF No. 1 ¶ 9. Thus, the court must consider whether the allegations in substance raise an ERISA claim. See Hull v. Fallon, 188 F.3d 939, 943 n.5 (8th Cir. 1999) (holding that the “district court properly looked beyond the four corners of Hull's pleadings and considered the ...


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