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Huntsman v. 3M Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 26, 2019

James Richard Huntsman, Plaintiff,
3M Company, 3M Company Employee Retirement Income Plan, Zenith Annette Huntsman, and Plan Administrator for the 3M Employee Retirement Income Plan, Defendants.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss and Plaintiff's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order. For the following reasons, the Motions to Dismiss are granted and the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order is denied.


         Plaintiff James R. Huntsman has tried for years to reduce or eliminate the spousal maintenance obligations originally imposed in 2000, when Plaintiff and his wife, Defendant Zenith Annette Huntsman, dissolved their 31-year marriage. He has brought no fewer than 18 state-court appeals over the past 19 years, at least one of which is still pending. This lawsuit seeks to force his former employer, Defendant 3M Company, to stop giving a portion of his pension proceeds to his ex-wife.

         Indeed, Mr. Huntsman is a restricted filer in state court because of how often he has challenged the property divisions from the divorce. Huntsman v. Huntsman, No. A12-2147, 2013 WL 5777908, at *8 (Minn.Ct.App. Oct. 28, 2013); see also Huntsman v. Huntsman, No. A19-40, 2019 WL 3293806, at *3 (Minn.Ct.App. July 22, 2019) (“It is now almost two decades since [Mr. Huntsman] began his protracted litigation in opposition to [Mrs. Huntsman's] awards of maintenance and attorney fees, and his tactics do not seem to have changed from those rejected by this court in 2013.”). This case represents Mr. Huntsman's second foray into federal court.

         The Huntsmans divorced in 2000 in Washington County. The divorce decree provided that Mr. Huntsman would pay spousal maintenance, and also specifically provided that a portion of Mr. Huntsman's pension benefit in the Defendant 3M Employee Retirement Income Plan (“ERIP”) would go to Mrs. Huntsman. To that end, the Washington County court issued a qualified domestic relations order under ERISA, directing Defendant 3M Plan Administrator[1] regarding the division of the pension benefit. See 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(G)(ii) (procedures for qualification of domestic relations orders under ERISA).

         Mr. Huntsman began receiving his monthly pension benefit of $3, 259.09 in 2007. Shortly thereafter, he moved the Washington County court to reduce his spousal maintenance obligations, but that motion was denied. And in fact, because of Mr. Huntsman's recalcitrance in making spousal maintenance payments and his attempts to litigate and re-litigate the issue of his obligations, in 2010 the court amended the previously issued qualified domestic relations order (QDRO). The 2010 QDRO provided that Mr. Huntsman's spousal maintenance payments be made directly to Mrs. Huntsman from Mr. Huntsman's pension benefits. The 3M Plan Administrator reviewed the QDRO and determined that it met the statutory requirements, and after Mr. Huntsman appealed, made the final determination that the QDRO was enforceable. 3M thus began directly paying Mrs. Huntsman a portion of Mr. Huntsman's pension benefits.

         Mr. Huntsman then filed a lawsuit in federal court. Huntsman v. Angell, No. 11cv844 (D. Minn. filed Apr. 6, 2011). The lawsuit was stayed pending Mr. Huntsman's appeal of the 2010 QDRO to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and shortly thereafter was dismissed without prejudice. (Docket Nos. 8, 9.) The Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed the 2010 QDRO. Huntsman v. Huntsman, No. A10-930, 2011 WL 2119336 (Minn.Ct.App. May 31, 2011).

         The Washington County court twice more amended the QDROs to increase the amounts Mrs. Huntsman was to be paid from the pension benefits. In 2015, the court once again issued a new QDRO, ordering the payment to Mrs. Huntsman not only of the previously determined base amount of $1, 400 per month but an additional $600 per month because Mr. Huntsman's spousal maintenance obligations were in arrears and because of the attorney's fees Mrs. Huntsman had been forced to expend defending the QDROs in various fora.

         In 2018, the state court once again modified the QDRO. The new QDRO ordered the payment of an additional $1, 000 per month out of Mr. Huntsman's pension benefits directly to Mrs. Huntsman, for a total of $3, 000 per month. The Plan Administrator overruled Mr. Huntman's appeal and found that the 2018 QDRO was a qualified QDRO. Because of the instant lawsuit, 3M has not paid the additional $1, 000 per month to Mrs. Huntsman but has placed that amount in escrow and has continued to pay her $2, 000 per month under the 2015 QDRO.

         Huntsman's Amended Complaint raises eight claims. Count I contends that 3M is violating ERISA and the state and U.S. Constitution by not escrowing the full $3, 000 per month but only escrowing $1, 000 per month. He asserts that 3M's failure to properly escrow the full amount will cause him “irreparable financial harm.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 131.) Count II claims that Mrs. Huntsman waived all rights to Mr. Huntsman's pension benefits in the original divorce decree, and that the decree is not subject to modification. Count III contends that the state court lacked jurisdiction to modify the original QDRO and thus that every QDRO issued thereafter is void under ERISA. Count IV claims that Mrs. Huntsman's failure to abide by the agreement she made in the original divorce decree constitutes a breach of contract. Count V raises ERISA fiduciary-duty violations against 3M arising out of the failure to pay Mr. Huntsman the full amount of his pension benefits. Count VI takes issue with the state court's determination that the additional payments ordered in 2018 were justified as payments in equity, claiming that ERISA does not allow any equitable exceptions. It's not clear against whom this Count is directed. Count VII argues that ERISA does not allow the state court to order Mr. Huntsman to pay Mrs. Huntsman's attorney's fees out of his pension benefits. Count VIII contends that the 2018 QDRO violates Minnesota and federal withholding and garnishment laws. Count IX claims that the 2018 QDRO does not meet ERISA's requirements for a QDRO and thus is invalid. The final three Counts are claims for relief: estoppel (Count X), declaratory judgment (Count XI), and a claim for costs and disbursements (Count XII).

         Both 3M and Mrs. Huntsman have moved to dismiss the claims against them. Mr. Huntsman thereafter moved for a Temporary Restraining Order seeking the same relief as in his Complaint.


         A. ...

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