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Lumber Industry Pension Fund v. Warm Springs Forest Products Industries

filed: June 19, 1991; As Modified August 1, 1991.

LUMBER INDUSTRY PENSION FUND, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WARM SPRINGS FOREST PRODUCTS INDUSTRIES, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California; Raul A. Ramirez, District Judge, Presiding; D.C. No. CV-88-1218-RAR.

Farris and Trott, Circuit Judges, and Dumbauld,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Farris

MEMORANDUM

FARRIS, Circuit Judge

Lumber Industry Pension Fund appeals the dismissal of its action to recover pension contributions from Warm Springs Forest Products Industries. The Fund argues that although Warm Springs is an Indian entity, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act and Labor Management Relations Act apply. We reverse.

Warm Springs Forest Products Industries is a tribally owned and operated sawmill located on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Up until June 30, 1988 the mill was a signatory to a collective bargaining agreement with the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union. That agreement required the mill to make pension contributions on behalf of its employees to the Lumber Industry Pension Fund.

In December 1987, the mill stopped making contributions to the Fund on behalf of approximately 90 of its employees, and began making contributions to the tribal pension plan. The Fund filed this action pursuant to ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132 and 1145, and the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185, seeking recovery of pension contributions for the period between December 1987 and June 30, 1988. The district court dismissed the complaint on the ground that ERISA and the LMRA do not apply.

We review de novo whether ERISA and LMRA apply to the mill. See Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation v. Kurtz, 691 F.2d 878, 880 (9th Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1040, 75 L. Ed. 2d 792, 103 S. Ct. 1433 (1983).

In general, in the absence of an expressed exemption for Indians, "a general statute in terms applying to all persons includes Indians and their property interests." Donovan v. Coeur d'Alene Tribal Farm, 751 F.2d 1113, 1115-16 (9th Cir. 1985). However, a general statute that does not expressly apply to Indians will not apply if:

(1) the law touches "exclusive rights of self-governance in purely intramural matters"; (2) the application of the law to the tribe would "abrogate rights guaranteed by Indian treaties"; or (3) there is proof "by legislative history or some other means that Congress intended [the law] not to apply to Indians on their reservations. . . ."

Id. at 1116.

ERISA is a statute of general applicability. See 29 U.S.C. § 1001. The mill is within ERISA's broad definition of employer. See 29 U.S.C. § 1002(5). However, Congress did not expressly state that ERISA applies to Indian tribes. If one of the exceptions cited above applies, ERISA does not apply to the mill.

The district court held that application of ERISA would interfere with exclusive rights of self-governance in a purely intramural matter, and that the first exception therefore applied.

The district court's holding is erroneous. The self-government exception applies only where the tribe's decision-making power is usurped. See United States v. Quiver, 241 U.S. 602, 605, 60 L. Ed. 1196, 36 S. Ct. 699 (1916); Jones v. Meehan, 175 U.S. 1, 29-30, 44 L. Ed. 49, 20 S. Ct. 1 (1899); Roff v. Burney, 168 U.S. 218, 222-23, 42 L. Ed. 442, 18 S. Ct. 60 (1897). Permitting the Fund to sue the mill under ERISA will ...


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