Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries
Perrone v. Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson's Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is an investment option within its retirement savings plans. The ESOP invests solely in J&J stock, which declined in price following news reports accusing J&J of concealing that its baby powder was contaminated with asbestos. J&J denied that its product was contaminated and that it had concealed anything about the product. J&J employees who participated in the ESOP alleged that the ESOP’s administrators, senior officers of J&J, violated their fiduciary duties of prudence under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1002-1003. The Supreme Court has held that a plaintiff bringing such a claim must plausibly allege “an alternative action that the defendant could have taken" consistent with the securities laws, and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed the proposed alternative as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. The J&J plaintiffs proposed that the defendants could have used their corporate powers to make public disclosures to correct J&J’s artificially high stock price earlier or that the fiduciaries could have stopped investing in J&J stock and held all ESOP contributions as cash.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. A reasonable fiduciary in these circumstances could readily view corrective disclosures or cash holdings as being likely to do the ESOP more harm than good, given the uncertainty about J&J’s future liabilities and the future movement of its stock price. View "Perrone v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law
Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co.
Principal Life Insurance Company (Principal) offers a product called the Principal Fixed Income Option (PFIO), a stable value contract, to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Plaintiff on behalf of himself and a class of plan participants who deposited money into the PFIO, sued Principal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), claiming that it (1) breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty by setting a low-interest rate for participants and (2) engaged in a prohibited transaction by using the PFIO contract to make money for itself. The district court granted summary judgment to Principal after concluding that it was not a fiduciary. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Principal was a fiduciary. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Principal on both claims after a bench trial. Plaintiff challenges the court’s judgment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Principal and the participants share an interest because a guaranteed CCR that is too high threatens the long-term sustainability of the guarantees of the PFIO, which is detrimental to the interest of the participants. The question then becomes whether the court clearly erred by finding that Principal set the CCR in the participants’ interests. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the deducts were reasonable and set by Principal in the participants’ interest of paying a reasonable amount for the PFIO’s administration. Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Principal on the prohibited transaction claim because it is exempted from liability for receiving reasonable compensation. View "Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Albert v. Oshkosh Corp.
Albert claimed that his former employer, a subsidiary of Oshkosh, violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C.1132(a)(2), by mismanaging its retirement plan. Albert alleged that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties by authorizing the Plan to pay unreasonably high fees for recordkeeping and administration, failing to adequately review the Plan’s investment portfolio to ensure that each investment option was prudent, and unreasonably maintaining investment advisors and consultants for the Plan despite the availability of similar service providers with lower costs or better performance histories.The district court dismissed the complaint. While Albert’s appeal was pending, the Supreme Court issued Hughes v. Northwestern University (2022), vacating Seventh Circuit precedent (Divane) and remanding. The district court had cited Divane repeatedly in its opinion, albeit not for the proposition that the Supreme Court rejected in Hughes. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all claims for failure to state a claim. The complaint is devoid of allegations as to the quality or type of services the comparator plans provided; the cheapest investment option is not necessarily the one a prudent fiduciary would select. Plaintiffs “must do more than recast allegations of purported breaches of fiduciary duty as disloyal acts.” View "Albert v. Oshkosh Corp." on Justia Law
Robert Gelschus v. Clifford Hogen
Plaintiff made contributions to a 401(k) plan during her employment at Honeywell International Inc. She originally designated her husband, Defendant, as the sole beneficiary in the event of her death. The parties later divorced and in the marital termination agreement (MTA), they agreed that Plaintiff will be awarded, free and clear of any claim on the part of Defendant’s, all of the parties’ right, title, and interest in and to the Honeywell 401(k) Savings and Ownership Plan. Plaintiff submitted a change-of-beneficiary form to Honeywell. She, however, did not comply with a requirement. Plaintiff died in 2019 and Honeywell paid the benefits to Defendant. The personal representative of Plaintiff’s estate sued Honeywell for breach of fiduciary duty, and Defendant for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, and civil theft. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Honeywell and reversed summary judgment for Defendant on the breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims. The court explained that even if the Plan gave the administrator discretion to accept Plaintiff’s defective Form, it is not an abuse of discretion to act in accordance with plan documents. ERISA directs administrators to “discharge [their] duties . . . in accordance with the documents and instruments governing the plan.” Thus, because Honeywell followed plan documents in rejecting Plaintiff’s defective change-of-beneficiary form and distributing benefits, the breach of fiduciary duty claim fails. Further, even if the MTA were ambiguous, a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff and Defendant intended for the MTA to waive his beneficiary interest in the 401(k). View "Robert Gelschus v. Clifford Hogen" on Justia Law
SCOTT WOLF V. INS. CO. OF N. AMERICA
Plaintiff's son died in a single-vehicle collision. At the time, he was intoxicated and driving the wrong way on a one-way road. The accidental death and dismemberment insurance policy obtained from defendant Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) by the plaintiff via his employer paid benefits for a “Covered Accident,” defined as “[a] sudden, unforeseeable, external event that results, directly and independently of all other causes.”Applying the Padfield test, Padfield v. AIG Life Ins. Co., 290 F.3d 1121 (9th Cir. 2002), the son’s death was an “accident” because, while the facts demonstrated that the son engaged in reckless conduct, the record did not show that his death was “substantially certain” to result from that conduct. Thus, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding. View "SCOTT WOLF V. INS. CO. OF N. AMERICA" on Justia Law
New York State Nurses Association Benefits Fund v. The Nyack Hospital
The case concerned the scope of the audit authority of a multi-employer employee benefit fund covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). The New York State Nurses Association Benefit Fund (the “Fund”) sought an audit of the Nyack Hospital’s (the “Hospital’s”) payroll and wage records. The Hospital objected, claiming that the Fund had the authority to inspect only the payroll records of employees the Hospital identified as members of the collective bargaining unit. The district court held that the Fund was entitled to the records of all persons the Hospital identified as registered nurses but not to the records of any other employees. The Second Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The court reversed to the extent the district court granted the Hospital’s cross-motion for summary judgment and denied the Fund’s motion for summary judgment. To the extent the district court granted the Fund’s motion for summary judgment and denied the Hospital’s cross-motion for summary judgment, the court affirmed. The court held that the audit sought by the Fund was authorized by the Trust Agreement and that the Hospital did not present evidence that the audit constituted a breach of the Fund’s fiduciary duty under ERISA. Accordingly, the audit was within the scope of the Fund trustees’ authority under the Supreme Court’s decision in Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Central Transport, Inc., 472 U.S. 559 (1985). View "New York State Nurses Association Benefits Fund v. The Nyack Hospital" on Justia Law
Dean v. National Production Workers Union, Local 707
The NPWU previously represented the plaintiffs, Parsec employees, participating in the NPWU’s retirement multiemployer defined-contribution plans. A lawsuit brought by the Department of Labor settled, requiring the Severance Plan to pay back loans and approving the Plan’s administrators and its third-party accounting firm, Krol. Parsec employees later voted to decertify the NPWU and elect the Teamsters as their new bargaining representative. The Teamsters told Parsec employees that their retirement accounts would roll over to the Teamsters’ plan. NPWU stated that the retirement accounts would become inactive but remain under NPWU control. After the election, Parsec stopped contributing to the NPWU plan and began contributing to the Teamsters’ plan. Parsec employees’ accounts became inactive but remained under NPWU control. Plaintiffs alleged excessive expenses, undisclosed payments to NPWU officers and their relatives, and high salaries. Plaintiffs requested copies of documents, to which they were entitled under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Plans responded but did not provide certain documents, including a “summary plan description” for the 401(k) Plan, which did not exist. Plaintiffs sent several letters requesting that the Plans roll over their accounts to the Teamsters’ plan. The Plans refused.Plaintiffs filed a putative class action. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Plans terms did not require rollover and the allegations failed to show that the trustees breached their fiduciary duties. View "Dean v. National Production Workers Union, Local 707" on Justia Law
Walsh v. Alight Solutions, LLC
Alight provides recordkeeping services for employee healthcare and retirement benefit plans, some of which are governed by ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461 The Department of Labor investigated Alight, following a discovery that Alight processed unauthorized distributions of plan benefits due to cybersecurity breaches, and sent Alight an administrative subpoena duces tecum, seeking documents in response to 32 inquiries, including broad demands, such as “[a]ll documents and communications relating to services offered to ERISA plan clients.” Alight produced some documents but objected to several inquiries, citing its duty to keep certain information confidential. The Department petitioned for enforcement of the subpoena. Alight produced additional materials but redacted most of the documents to remove client identifying information, preventing the Department from discerning potential ERISA violations. Alight asked the court to quash or limit the subpoena and permit redactions. Alight’s legal consultant projected full compliance would require “thousands of hours of work.” The Department clarified or narrowed its requests.The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order granting the Department’s petition to enforce the subpoena with some modifications. The court rejected Alight’s arguments that the subpoena is unenforceable because the Department lacks authority to investigate the company because it is not a fiduciary under ERISA, or cybersecurity incidents generally; that the subpoena’s demands are too indefinite and unduly burdensome, and that the district court abused its discretion by denying Alight’s request for a protective order to limit production of certain sensitive information. View "Walsh v. Alight Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law
Florence Lake Investments v. Berg
The Supreme Court held that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 19 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., and in particular, ERISA's anti-alienation statute, shields a 401K plan administrator from state garnishment liability.Florence Lake Investments, LLC obtained a judgment against Jason Berg and his wife, Mary Berg, and made several collection efforts through postjudgment proceedings for garnishment or execution. Florence served garnishment interrogatories on Zoetis, Inc., as administrator of Berg's 401K account, but Zoetis did not disclose its role regarding Berg's 401K account. Florence then filed an application to determine garnishee liability against Zoetis. The court overruled the application, concluding that Zoetis was not liable for failing strictly to comply with the garnishment statutes by not disclosing Berg's 401K because ERISA governed the account, and therefore, the account could not be subject to garnishment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) ERISA's anti-alienation statute prevented Florence from acquiring Berg's right to the funds in his 401K account; and (2) therefore, Zoetis could not be held liable for failing to comply with the garnishment statutes. View "Florence Lake Investments v. Berg" on Justia Law
Operating Engineers’ Local 324 Fringe Benefits Funds v. Rieth-Riley Construction Co.
The Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing this ERISA action for lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that no contract bound the parties, holding that the presence of a live contract goes to the merits of this action, not the district court's jurisdiction to hear it.A group of employee benefits funds sued Defendant in a federal district court alleging breach of contract for late contributions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Defendant responded that no contract existed and that the presence of a live contract was a jurisdictional prerequisite to Plaintiffs' ERISA suit, meaning that the claim should have been brought under the National Labor Relations Act and that the National Labor Relations Board had exclusive jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' grievances. The district court dismissed the suit without prejudice, holding that it lacked jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the presence of a live contract is not an essential jurisdictional fact in an action brought under section 515 of ERISA. Rather, the presence of a live contract goes to the merits of Plaintiffs' ERISA claim. View "Operating Engineers' Local 324 Fringe Benefits Funds v. Rieth-Riley Construction Co." on Justia Law