Comrie v. IPSCO, No. 08-3060 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 10, 2008)

In the category of blowing my own horn (just a little), in a case where I'm co-counseling in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, the district court delivers a decision of first impression on a neat ERISA question: are foreign labor and benefits contracts preempted? This judge holds that they are not.

The case involves an executive orginally from Regina, Saskatchewan (where I once stayed overnight -- on vacation!). According to the complaint, he entered into an oral contract to come to the U.S. to work in a division headquartered in Illinois, upon the company's committment that he would be allowed to keep his Canadian benefits. He came to the U.S. (later becoming a citizen), then discovered upon his removal from office some years later that the company would pay him only under the U.S. ERISA plan, quite possibly shorting him millions of dollars (or possibly loonies).

When the former excutive sued for the benefit, he brought the action both under ERISA and contract law, and (not unexpectedly) IPSCO moved to dismiss the common-law claims on preemption grounds. But in this decision (attached), Judge Darrah held that ERISA preempts on state law, not Canadian law, based on the plain meaning of the preemption section and by the absence of any extraterritoriality language in the act. Finding that the executive contract should be governed by Canadian law (under a "most significant contacts," conflict of laws analysis), it held that the contract was not preempted.