Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries
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
Burke v. Boeing Co.
In this putative class action filed shortly after two fatal crashes of new Boeing 737 MAX airliners led to a worldwide grounding of those planes and a halt to production, resulting to a significant drop in the value of Boeing stock, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), holding that there was no error.At issue was The Boeing Company's employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) and whether Boeing plan fiduciaries' delegation to an independent outside fiduciary the selection and management of investment options for the ESOP protected the company and company insiders from liability for the plan's continued offering of Boeing stock as an independent option for employees before and during the time when the Boeing stock dropped. Plaintiffs argued that Boeing's continuous concealment of material facts relating to the 737 MAX jets caused the price of the stock to be artificially inflated and that Defendants should disclosed the safety issues to the public immediately. The district court dismissed the action. The Seventh District affirmed, holding that the delegation of investment decisions to an independent fiduciary meant that Boeing did not act in an ERISA fiduciary capacity in connection with the continued investments in Boeing stock. View "Burke v. Boeing Co." on Justia Law
Virgil Harris v. The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, et al
Under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. Section 1132(a)(1)(B), a plan administrator’s benefits decision is subject to plenary review in federal court unless the administrator is given discretion to determine eligibility or construe the terms of the plan. If the administrator has discretion, a court determines whether its benefits decision was arbitrary and capricious (i.e., whether it lacked a reasonable basis). In this ERISA case, all parties agree that Lincoln’s denial of long-term disability benefits to Plaintiff triggered de novo review because the plan did not give Lincoln discretion. The district court, acknowledging that its review of the denial was plenary, ruled that Plaintiff could not submit evidence that had not been presented to Lincoln before it denied benefits. The Eleventh Circuit reversed holding that the district court’s evidentiary ruling constituted error under Eleventh Circuit precedent. The court explained that Lincoln also argues that even under Moon and Kirwan an ERISA plaintiff does not have the unfettered right to introduce new evidence when challenging the denial of benefits under plenary review. However, the court explained it has never mentioned, a showing of good cause to present new evidence in ERISA benefit cases governed by the de novo standard. Further, although Lincoln that under plenary review the administrative record supports the denial of long-term disability benefits to Plaintiff, the court cannot, however, affirm on this basis. Accordingly, the district court erred by not considering Plaintiff's post-denial evidence, and Lincoln does not assert that this error was harmless. View "Virgil Harris v. The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, et al" on Justia Law
Board of Trustees v. Four-C-Aire, Inc.
The Board of Trustees of the Sheet Metal Workers’ National Pension Fund (“the Fund”) sought to recover a delinquent exit contribution from Four-C-Aire, Inc., a former participating employer, under Section 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). 29 U.S.C. Section 1145. The Fund claims Four-C-Aire’s obligation arose under a collective-bargaining agreement (“the CBA”) between the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local Union No. 58 and the Central New York Sheet Metal Contractors Association, a multiemployer bargaining unit. According to the Fund, Four C-Aire signed on to this preexisting agreement while it was a member of the Contractors Association. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that Four-C-Aire adopted the agreement by its conduct. The court held that even if Four-C-Aire had preserved the issue, it’s meritless. The record contains several iterations of the written trust documents, including those imposing the exit-contribution requirement. And the Fund’s Director of Operations verified each version of the document in a declaration to the district court. Further, the court wrote there is no evidence the trust documents are invalid. In sum, Four-C-Aire offers no reason why the court shouldn’t enforce the plain terms of the agreement and trust documents, as ERISA requires. View "Board of Trustees v. Four-C-Aire, Inc." on Justia Law
Ministeri v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co.
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of an employee's widow in this insurance dispute, holding that the employee did not lose life insurance coverage under his employer's group policy after he developed a brain tumor that disrupted his usual work.Plaintiff, the employee's widow, submitted a statement to Insurer claiming approximately $1 under her late husband's life insurance policy. Insurer denied the claim. Plaintiff then sued, alleging wrongful denial of benefits under section 502(a) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B), (a)(3). The insurance company denied life insurance coverage on the grounds that the employee's coverage under the policy had lapsed. The district court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) because the policy language invoked by Insurer in this case was less than clear the rule that ambiguous terms in an insurance policy should be read in favor of coverage applied; and (2) the employee was covered at the time of his demise. View "Ministeri v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
LENAI MULL V. MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY HEALTH
Plaintiffs brought this action against the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan (the “Plan”) and the Plan’s Board of Directors under Section 502(a)(1)(B) and § 502(a)(3) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). Plaintiff is a participant in the Plan. The remaining co-Plaintiffs are covered dependents of Norman. Plaintiff was a participant in the Plan. After his daughter, a covered dependent, was injured in a car accident, the Plan paid benefits to cover a portion of her medical expenses. Under the Plan’s terms, Plaintiff was liable to the Plan for the reimbursement of these benefits if the daughter recovered the money from the third party who caused her injuries. Although the daughter obtained such a recovery, she dissipated her settlement funds without reimbursing the Plan, and Plaintiff did not pay the reimbursement amount himself. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs in an action against the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan and the Plan’s Board of Directors, alleging violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, and remanded with instructions for the district court to enter summary judgment in favor of the Plan. Reversing, the court concluded that contractual defenses could not defeat the clear and unambiguous terms setting forth the Plan’s self-help remedy. Assuming without deciding that plaintiffs could invoke the equitable doctrines of illegality, impossibility of performance, and unconscionability, the panel concluded that these defenses could not override the terms of the Plan under the facts in this case. View "LENAI MULL V. MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY HEALTH" on Justia Law
Charles Bellon v. The PPG Employee Life and Other Benefits Plan
Plaintiffs, each a retiree of PPG Industries, Inc. (“PPG”), or the surviving spouse of such a retiree, initiated a putative class action— following the termination of Plaintiffs’ retiree life insurance coverage under the PPG Employee Life and Other Benefits Plan (the “Benefits Plan” or the “Plan”). The district court awarded summary judgment to the PPG defendants on all claims, without ruling on the class certification issue. On appeal, Plaintiffs contested the summary judgment award as to three counts of the Complaint, that is, Counts I, VII, and VIII. The Fourth Circuit identified a genuine dispute of material fact with respect to the Count I claim that retiree life insurance coverage was “vested” in eligible employees working for PPG during the 15-year period from 1969 to 1984 (the “vesting claim”). The court explained that it agrees with Plaintiffs that if their retiree life insurance coverage were ever a vested benefit, PPG could not rely on the later-added reservation of rights clause to terminate that coverage.Accordingly, the court vacated vacate the judgment as to the vesting claim and remanded for consideration of whether the termination of Plaintiffs’ retiree life insurance coverage contravened the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. Section 1001 et seq. View "Charles Bellon v. The PPG Employee Life and Other Benefits Plan" on Justia Law