Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

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Kelly Foster filed suit against Appellees under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132(a), to enforce her rights under short-term and long-term disability benefit plans that had been adopted by her employer, Sun Trust Bank. The district court granted summary judgment to Appellees and dismissed Foster's complaint. The district court then denied Foster's motion for reconsideration. The court affirmed the district court's finding that the short-term disability plan is an ERISA-exempt “payroll practice” under Department of Labor regulations; held that the district court appropriately applied a deferential standard of review to the administrator’s denial of benefits under the long-term disability plan because the terms of the plan unambiguously granted the administrator, and the administrator alone, the power to construe critical terms of the plan and to decide an employee’s eligibility for benefits; and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Foster's motion for reconsideration. View "Foster v. Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits under his long term disability policy sponsored by his employer and issued by Northwestern Mutual. The court held that the district court erred in denying plaintiff his long term disability benefits under the Plan where the administrative record plainly showed that plaintiff could not sit for more than four hours a day. Nonetheless, the district court upheld Northwestern Mutual’s determination that Armani could perform work at the “sedentary” level. The court agreed with other circuits and held that an employee who cannot sit for more than four hours in an eight-hour workday cannot perform “sedentary” work that requires “sitting most of the time.” Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Armani v. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Central States is a self-funded Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plan that provides health coverage to participating Teamsters and their dependents. The plan’s trustee sought a declaratory judgment concerning student athletes who had medical coverage under both the Central States plan and independent insurers’ policies. The trustee alleged that the plan paid the beneficiaries’ medical bills in full (about $343,000) and the insurers owe reimbursement. The plan and the insurers’ policies have competing coordination-of-benefits clauses, and each side claims that its respective provision makes the other primarily liable for the beneficiaries’ medical expenses (29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3)). The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case. ERISA section 502(a)(3) does not authorize suits of this type because the relief sought is legal, not equitable. View "Central States, Southeast & Southwest Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. American International Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Before accepting a transfer to a Bridgestone facility in North Carolina, Deschamps expressed concern about losing pension credit for his 10 years of employment with Bridgestone in Canada. After receiving assurances from Bridgestone’s management team that he would keep his pension credit, Deschamps accepted the position. For several years, Deschamps received written materials confirming that his date of service for pension purposes would be August 1983. He turned down employment with a competitor at a higher salary because of the purportedly higher pension benefits he would receive at Bridgestone. In 2010, Deschamps discovered that Bridgestone had changed his service date to August 1993, the date he began working at the American plant. After failed attempts to appeal this change through Bridgestone’s internal procedures, Deschamps filed suit, alleging equitable estoppel, breach of fiduciary duty, and an anti-cutback violation of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1054(g). The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Deschamps on all three claims. The text of the plan “is at worst ambiguous, but at best, favors Deschamps’s argument that he was a covered employee in 1983” and, as a result of the change in the interpretation of this provision that excluded foreign employees from being classified as covered employees, Deschamps’s benefits were decreased. View "Deschamps v. Bridgestone Americas, Inc." on Justia Law

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After the BP Stock Fund lost significant value, the affected investors filed suit alleging that the plan fiduciaries breached their duties of prudence and loyalty by allowing the Plans to acquire and hold overvalued BP stock; breached their duty to provide adequate investment information to plan participants; and breached their duty to monitor those responsible for managing the BP Stock Fund. The district court held that the stockholders had failed to overcome the Moench v. Robertson presumption and dismissed their claims. The stockholders appealed, and while their appeal was pending in this court, the Supreme Court issued Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, holding that there was no such “presumption of prudence” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. On remand, the district court held that the stockholders had plausibly alleged that defendants had inside information; and the stockholders had plausibly alleged two alternative actions that defendants could have taken that met the Fifth Third standard: freezing, limiting, or restricting company stock purchases; and disclosing unfavorable information to the public. The district court granted the motion to amend with respect to pleading these alternative actions. It then certified defendants’ motion for interlocutory appeal. The court concluded, however, that the district court here erred when it altered the language of Fifth Third to reach its holding. Under the Supreme Court’s formulation, the plaintiff bears the significant burden of proposing an alternative course of action so clearly beneficial that a prudent fiduciary could not conclude that it would be more likely to harm the fund than to help it. In this case, the stockholders have failed to do so. Because the stockholders' amended complaint is insufficient and the district court erred in granting their motion to amend, the court reversed and remanded. View "Whitley v. BP, P.L.C." on Justia Law

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This case concerns employee benefits plans sponsored by AIG or its affiliates under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. At issue is whether the Plans are "affiliates" of AIG for the purposes of a class action settlement agreement. The district court held that appellants are "affiliates" of AIG and thus ineligible for their own portion of a class settlement agreement with AIG. The court held that appellants have standing to appeal the district court's denial of the motion to direct and dismissed appellants' appeal as to the denial of their motion to intervene as moot. On the merits, the court held that because ERISA imposes important statutory limits on an employer’s control over the management and policies of an employee benefit plan, those plans do not fall within the ordinary meaning of "affiliate." Therefore, the court concluded that appellants are entitled to their own portion of the settlement and appellees will have a somewhat smaller portion. The court vacated the denial of the Plans' motion to direct. View "In re AIG Securities Litig." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are trust funds and employee benefit plans for construction industry employees. MRS constructs commercial buildings. In 1997, MRS signed “me-too agreements” binding it to collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) bestowing rights on Plaintiffs. Under the agreement, MRS agreed to be bound by the 1997-2001 CBA in force between a multiemployer association and the union. According to Plaintiffs, MRS also agreed to be bound by later CBAs because the 1997 agreement contains an “evergreen clause” and MRS never gave the notice required to terminate the clause. MRS conceded that it never gave notice, but denied that the letter continuously granted bargaining rights. Under each CBA, employers had to make specified contributions to various Plaintiff funds and permit audits of records relevant to those obligations. Plaintiffs sent MRS requests for audits, believing that MRS had failed to make contributions required by the 2012-2015 CBA. When MRS did not comply, Plaintiffs sought post-audit relief under 29 U.S.C. 1145 for unpaid ERISA contributions and injunctive relief compelling MRS to comply with the 2012-2015 and subsequent CBAs. The Third Circuit reversed dismissal, rejecting an argument that all me-too agreements must satisfy two criteria in order to bind non-signatories to future CBAs. Absent that requirement, the plausibility of the complaint should be assessed under contract law principles and states a plausible claim for relief. View "Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund v. Mgmt. Res. Sys., Inc." on Justia Law

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Brian O’Shea worked for UPS for thirty-seven years. As an employee of UPS, O’Shea participated in the UPS Retirement Plan. O’Shea became eligible for retirement in 2009 and decided to retire at the end of that year. In 2008, O’Shea was diagnosed with cancer. One week before his official retirement date but after his final day of work, O’Shea died. UPS Retirement Plan Administrative Committee informed O’Shea’s beneficiaries that, under the circumstances, they were deprived of ten years of payments under the annuity plan. O’Shea’s beneficiaries filed suit in district court seeking recovery of the ten years of annuity payments allegedly guaranteed under the UPS Retirement Plan. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of UPS. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in concluding that UPS’s interpretation of the plan was not arbitrary or capricious; and (2) the district court did not err in dismissing the beneficiaries’ claim for equitable relief. View "O'Shea v. UPS Retirement Plan" on Justia Law

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To stimulate economic development, Jersey City, New Jersey offers tax exemptions and abatements to private developers of projects in certain designated areas. Those tax benefits are conditioned on the developers’ entry into agreements with labor unions that bind the developers to specified labor practices. Employers and a trade group challenged that law, alleging that it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and barred by the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Jersey City acts as a market participant, not a regulator, when it enforces the law, so that NLRA, ERISA, and dormant Commerce Clause claims were not cognizable. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that Jersey City was acting as a regulator in this context. The city lacks a proprietary interest in Tax Abated Projects. The Supreme Court has recognized a government’s proprietary interest in a project when it “owns and manages property” subject to the project or it hires, pays, and directs contractors to complete the project; when it provides funding for the project; or when it purchases or sells goods or services. This case fits none of these categories. View "Assoc. Builders & Contractors, Inc. v. City of Jersey City" on Justia Law

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Okuno was working as an art director with a clothing company when she developed symptoms including vertigo, extreme headaches, memory loss, and abdominal pain. Though she had previously been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease, Okuno contends that these maladies had been “stable and well-controlled” for years and did not prevent her from working. After visits to multiple specialists, numerous tests, and two visits to the emergency room, Okuno was eventually diagnosed with narcolepsy, Crohn’s disease, and Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease. After diagnosis, she struggled with negative drug interactions and the side effects associated with her many treatments. Unable to continue working, Okuno went on short-term disability and applied for benefits under her employer’s long-term disability plan, issued and administrated by Reliance. Reliance denied the application on the basis that depression and anxiety contributed to Okuno’s disabling conditions. After exhausting her administrative appeals, Okuno brought a claim under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The district court found in favor of Reliance on cross-motions for judgment on the administrative record. The Sixth Circuit reversed, reasoning that her physical ailments, including Crohn’s disease, narcolepsy, and Sjogren’s syndrome, are disabling when considered apart from any mental component. View "Okuno v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law