Dakota, MN & Eastern R.R. Corp. v. Schieffer, No. 10-2484 (8th Cir. 2011)Annotate this Case
Defendant entered into an Employment Agreement with his employer before the employer entered into a merger. After defendant was terminated by his employer and post-merger disputes arose as to the amounts his employer owed him, defendant filed a demand for arbitration under the Employment Agreement's arbitration provision. The employer commenced this action to enjoin the arbitration as preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. The employer alleged federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1331 because the severance dispute "arises out of an [ERISA] employee benefit plan" and therefore state law claims were preempted, and supplemental jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. 1367 over non-ERISA claims. The court considered ERISA's statutory language, purpose, and historical context and held that an individual contract providing severance benefits to a single executive employee was not an ERISA employee welfare benefit plan within the meaning of section 1002(1). The court also held that ERISA preempted state laws that "relate to" an employee benefit plan. Consequently, further questions arose because the Employment Agreement included two provisions that could "relate" to the Employment Agreement to other programs of the employer that were ERISA plans. As neither parties nor the district court considered this jurisdictional issue, the court remanded for further proceedings.