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Weis, a stonework firm, was required by a collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) to contribute to the Laborers’ Pension Fund for each hour worked by Union members. Weis complied for many years, then began using more skilled marble setters and finishers on its jobs, gradually stopped hiring Union members, ceased paying into the Fund, and terminated its CBA with the Union. The Fund, a multiemployer pension plan governed by ERISA and the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendment Act, served notice that Weis owed more than $600,000 in withdrawal liability. Weis paid but challenged the assessment in arbitration, invoking 29 U.S.C. 1383(b): An employer in the building and construction industry is subject to withdrawal liability only if, after its contribution obligation ceases, it continues to perform work in the jurisdiction of the CBA of the type for which contributions were previously required. The Fund argued that the arbitrator misread the phrase “previously required” to mean “previously collected by the plan.” A district judge confirmed the award but denied Weis attorney’s fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Fund waived its statutory-interpretation argument by failing to raise it in arbitration and did not meaningfully challenge the arbitrator’s factual determinations. The judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Weis’s motion for attorney’s fees. View "Laborers' Pension Fund v. W.R. Weis Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of ConAgra in an action seeking to recover severance benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. The court held that ConAgra's financial conflict of interest was still a relevant factor the court considered in determining whether ConAgra abused its discretion in denying plaintiff's claim; ConAgra did not abuse its discretion in determining that plaintiff lacked good reason to self-terminate; and because ConAgra's decision was reasonable, ConAgra did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's claim for benefits. Furthermore, ConAgra did not breach its fiduciary duty to plaintiff by misstating or omitting certain material information when communicating with him. Finally, the court held that plaintiff's claims were not frivolous and affirmed the award of attorney's fees incurred by plaintiff. View "Boyd v. ConAgra Foods, Inc." on Justia Law

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Cincinnati ordinances provide guidelines for selecting the “lowest and best bidder” on Department of Sewers projects to “ensure efficient use of taxpayer dollars, minimize waste, and promote worker safety and fair treatment of workers” and for bids for “Greater Cincinnati Water Works and the stormwater management utility division,” to employ skilled contractors, committed to the city’s “safety, quality, time, and budgetary concerns.” Allied alleged that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) preempted: a requirement that the bidder certify whether it contributes to a health care plan for employees working on the project as part of the employee’s regular compensation; a requirement that the bidder similarly certify whether it contributes to an employee pension or retirement program; and imposition of an apprenticeship standard. Allied asserts that the only apprenticeship program that meets that requirement is the Union’s apprenticeship program, which is not available to non-Union contractors. The ordinances also require the winning contractor to pay $.10 per hour per worker into a city-managed pre-apprenticeship training fund, not to be taken from fringe benefits. The district court granted Allied summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Where a state or municipality acts as a proprietor rather than a regulator, it is not subject to ERISA preemption. The city was a market participant here: the benefit-certification requirements and the apprenticeship requirements reflect its interests in the efficient procurement of goods and services. View "Allied Construction Industries v. City of Cincinnati" on Justia Law

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Life Insurance Company of North America’s terminated plaintiff-appellant Carl Van Steen’s long-term disability benefits under Lockheed Martin’s ERISA Plan. Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) appealed the district court’s finding that its decision to terminate Van Steen’s benefits was arbitrary and capricious. Van Steen, in turn, appealed the district court’s denial of his attorney’s fees request. Van Steen was physically assaulted during an altercation while walking his dog. The assault resulted in a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that impacted Van Steen’s cognitive abilities that prevented him from returning to full time work; Van Steen was eventually allowed to return to part-time work on a daily basis roughly six weeks later. Even on a part-time schedule, Van Steen experienced cognitive fatigue and headaches that required him to frequently rest. Due to his inability to stay organized and keep track of deadlines after the assault, Van Steen received poor feedback on his job performance. Van Steen’s claim for partial long-term disability benefits was approved on March 30, 2012. Roughly a year later, LINA reviewed Van Steen’s file, contacted his doctors, and confirmed that Van Steen’s condition and restrictions were permanent as he was “not likely to improve.” Despite this prognosis, LINA sent Van Steen a letter one week later terminating his long-term disability benefits, explaining that “the medical documentation on file does not continue to support the current restrictions and limitations to preclude you from resuming a full-time work schedule.” Having exhausted his administrative appeals under the Plan, Van Steen next sought relief before the district court. The district court reversed LINA’s decision to terminate Van Steen’s partial long-term disability benefits on the grounds that it was arbitrary and capricious, but denied Van Steen’s request for attorney’s fees. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court’s reversal of LINA’s decision to terminate Van Steen’s coverage. The Court also found that Van Steen was not eligible for attorney fees: “Van Steen’s arguments fail to convince us that the district court’s decision was based on a clear error of judgment or exceeded the bounds of permissible choice.” View "Van Steen v. Life Insurance Company N.A." on Justia Law

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Cigna filed suit against Humble seeking overpayments and Humble counterclaimed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and Texas state common law. The district court concluded that Cigna's claims and defenses failed as a matter of law, and awarded Humble damages and penalties. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court failed to apply the required abuse of discretion analysis; other courts have upheld Cigna's interpretation of its insurance plans; and there was substantial evidence supporting Cigna's interpretation. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's judgment. The court also held that Cigna was not a named plan administrator and reversed the district court's award of ERISA penalties against Cigna. The court vacated in part the district court's dismissal of Cigna's claims against Humble and vacated the district court's award of attorneys' fees, remanding for further consideration. View "Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. v. Humble Surgical Hospital, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), generally exempts from its requirements “church plans”: employee-benefit plans established and maintained by churches for their employees. ERISA also extends that church-plan exemption to "principal-purpose" organizations. Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), a nonprofit organization created to carry out the Roman Catholic Church’s healing ministry, operates 92 hospitals and numerous other healthcare facilities in 18 states. CHI offers a retirement plan for its employees, with more than 90,000 participants and beneficiaries, and nearly $3 billion in plan assets. Janeen Medina, a CHI employee, filed a class action, alleging that CHI’s retirement plan failed to satisfy the statutory criteria for the church-plan exemption. She contended that, since the plan did not qualify for the exemption, CHI should have complied with the reporting and funding requirements of ERISA. Medina also argued the individual defendants who administered the plan breached their fiduciary duties by failing to comply with ERISA. And, Medina argued, even if the CHI plan did qualify as a church plan, the exemption violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. The district court held that CHI’s plan was a church plan that qualified for the ERISA exemption. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit agreed, concluding that CHI’s plan satisfied the statutory requirements for the church-plan exemption as a proper principal-purpose organization. The ERISA exemption, moreover, does not run afoul of the United States Constitution’s Establishment Clause. View "Medina v. Catholic Health Initiatives" on Justia Law

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Babin, employed by Quality, developed carpal tunnel syndrome and had several surgeries. Three months after he returned to work, his employment ended. Babin participated in Quality’s employee benefit plan, which provided short- and long-term disability benefits, governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Babin submitted a short-term disability benefits application to Standard, Quality’s insurer. In February 2013, Standard denied Babin’s claim because it had not received a necessary form from Quality. Babin alleges that he provided that form to Quality, which failed to complete it. In February 2014, Babin’s counsel asked Quality for disability plan documents. Babin claims that Quality did not send those documents before he filed suit, that he believed that the short-term plan provided six months of benefits, and, had he known that the plan only provides three months of benefits, he would have applied for long-term benefits; Quality’s failure to produce the documents caused him to miss the window for long-term benefits. Babin filed suit 20 months after requesting the documents, alleging failure to produce documents and failure to pay benefits. The parties settled the denial-of-benefits claim. The court held that Louisiana’s one-year prescriptive period for delictual claims applies to 29 U.S.C. 1132(c) claims, so Babin’s claim was time-barred. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Babin’s argument that Louisiana’s 10-year prescriptive period for personal actions should govern his claim for failure to produce documents. View "Babin v. Quality Energy Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, part of ERISA, a construction industry employer who withdraws from a multiemployer pension plan owes liability to that plan if the employer conducts work “in the jurisdiction of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) of the type for which contributions were previously required,” 29 U.S.C. 1383(b)(2)(B)(i). The Iron Workers Local 17 Pension Fund assessed pension liability against Stevens Engineers claiming that Stevens’s activities on a certain construction project involved such work within the jurisdiction of their previous CBA. An arbitrator, the district court, and the Sixth Circuit found that Stevens did not owe pension liability to the Fund because the work identified by Local 17 did not fall within the jurisdiction of the relevant CBA, and did not otherwise require contributions by Stevens. The CBA instead allowed Stevens to assign jobs like the ones at issue to other trade unions, and a job did not trigger pension liability to the Fund if, as here, it was properly assigned to a different union. View "Stevens Engineers & Constructors, Inc. v. Local 17 Iron Workers Pension Fund" on Justia Law

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Bruce and Bridget married in 1993. Their only child, Sierra, was born in 1995. In 2003, Bruce signed up for a life insurance plan sponsored by his employer and governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Bruce listed his uncle as the sole beneficiary. Bruce and Bridget divorced in 2006. Bruce died in 2013, insured for $48,000 in basic life insurance and $191,000 in optional life insurance. In their 2006 divorce decree, Bruce and Bridget agreed to maintain any employer-related life insurance policies for the benefit of Sierra until she turned 18 or graduated from high school. Bruce had not changed his beneficiary. The district court ordered payment to Sierra. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The divorce decree suffices as a qualified domestic relations order that, incorporating the Jacksons’ separation agreement and their shared parenting plan, “clearly specifies” Sierra as the beneficiary under 29 U.S.C. 1056(d)(3)(C). Her parents’ (alleged) non-compliance with the decree does not limit Sierra’s rights under ERISA. View "Sun Life Assurance Co. v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against UHS under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132, seeking to recover unpaid benefits. The Eighth Circuit held that plaintiff could not bring claims for benefits due to her husband in her personal capacity, but rather, a legal representative of her husband's estate must bring the claim. Furthermore, plaintiff could not bring a section 1132(a)(3)(B) claim in equity. However, a restitutionary claim for premiums she paid under section 1132(a)(3)(B) was potentially available to her if there was a plan violation. The court remanded to the district court to determine initially if there was such a plan violation and, if so, whether restitution of plaintiff's premiums was "appropriate equitable relief" under section 1132(a)(3)(B). The court also held that the district court did not err in determining that UHS was not the plan administrator and plaintiff's breach of contract claim was preempted by ERISA. View "Ibson v. United Healthcare Services" on Justia Law