United States District Court, D. Minnesota
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,
Jon Born, Tracy McDonald, Sabin Peterson and William Seehafer, as Employer Trustees of the Trust, Defendants.
C. Atmore, Esq. and Leonard, O'Brien, Spencer, Gale &
Sayre, Ltd, counsel for plaintiffs.
Michael G. Congin, Esq. and Littler Mendelson, counsel for
S. Doty, Judge United States District Court.
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). Based on a review of the file, record, and
proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court
denies the motion.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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)).
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 ...