44 F.3d 650 (8th Cir. 1995), 93-3860, Adamson v. Armco, Inc.

Docket Nº:93-3860.
Citation:44 F.3d 650
Party Name:Harold E. ADAMSON, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. ARMCO, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:January 05, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 650

44 F.3d 650 (8th Cir. 1995)

Harold E. ADAMSON, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

ARMCO, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 93-3860.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 5, 1995

Submitted June 13, 1994.

Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied March

24, 1995.

Page 651

Mark Wentworth Bay, Minneapolis, MN, argued (John G. Engberg, on the brief), for appellants.

David A. Ranheim, Minneapolis, MN, argued (David A. Ranheim, John D. Levine and Paul R. Dieseth, on the brief), for appellee.

Before BOWMAN, Circuit Judge, WEIS, [*] Senior Circuit Judge, and LOKEN, Circuit Judge.

LOKEN, Circuit Judge.

For many years, Reserve Mining Company ("Reserve") mined and processed taconite iron ore deposits in northern Minnesota and shipped the processed taconite to steel mills operated by Reserve's parent companies, Republic Steel Corporation and appellee Armco, Inc. Republic and Armco operated Reserve as a "cost company," paying Reserve's operating expenses as incurred and causing Reserve to have no net earnings. In mid-1986, beset by environmental and economic adversities, Reserve ceased operations and filed a petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.

Reserve's bankruptcy terminated its unfunded welfare benefit plans. Appellants are 487 former salaried employees and retirees

Page 652

of Reserve who had participated in those plans. They commenced this action in 1992 against Armco, asserting thirty-seven claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. Secs. 1001 et seq. ("ERISA"). The district court 1 dismissed all these claims. This appeal concerns its dismissal of claims for benefits due under the terminated plans as time-barred, and its dismissal of claims for breach of fiduciary duty because appellants as former plan participants lack standing to assert those claims under Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 109 S.Ct. 948, 103 L.Ed.2d 80 (1989). We conclude that the district court correctly construed ERISA and the relevant case law and therefore affirm.

I. Claims for Benefits Due

Appellants allege that Armco is an "employer" liable for benefits due under the terms of the unfunded, terminated plans. ERISA expressly provides that "[a] civil action may be brought (1) by a participant or beneficiary ... (B) to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan." Sec. 502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1132(a)(1)(B). The plans stopped paying benefits in 1986. These claims were first asserted in 1992. The district court held the claims time-barred under Minnesota's two-year statute of limitations governing claims for the recovery of wages and other compensation. Minn.Stat. Sec. 541.07(5). We agree.

ERISA contains no statute of limitations for actions to recover plan benefits. Therefore, as a matter of federal law we must look to Minnesota law for the most analogous state statute of limitations. At least in this circuit, it is settled that a claim for ERISA benefits is characterized as a contract action for statute of limitations purposes. In a State such as Minnesota that has more than one statute of limitations for contract actions, the federal court must decide which statute governs claims that are "most analogous" to the ERISA benefit claims at issue. See Johnson v. State Mut. Life Assur. Co. of America, 942 F.2d 1260, 1261-63 (8th Cir.1991) (en banc).

Appellants argue that Minnesota's six-year statute of limitations for contracts not falling within a more specific statute should govern. See Minn.Stat. Sec. 541.05(1). The district court instead applied Sec. 541.07(5), the two-year statute of limitations for wage claims, which provides in relevant part:

[T]he following actions shall be commenced within two years:

* * * * * *

(5) For the recovery of wages or overtime or damages, fees or penalties accruing under any federal or state law respecting the payment of wages or overtime or damages, fees or penalties.... (The term "wages" means all remuneration for services or employment, including commissions and bonuses and the cash value of all remuneration in any medium other than cash, where the relationship of master and servant exists and the term "damages" means single, double, or treble damages, accorded by any statutory cause of action whatsoever and whether or not the relationship of master and servant exists).

Minnesota courts have...

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