Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

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In 2014, the Supreme Court held that a claim for breach of the duty of prudence imposed on plan fiduciaries by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) on the basis of inside information, must plausibly allege an alternative action that would have been consistent with securities laws and that a prudent fiduciary would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. The ERISA duty of prudence does not require a fiduciary to break the law and cannot require the fiduciary of an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) “to perform an action—such as divesting the fund’s holdings of the employer’s stock on the basis of inside information—that would violate the securities laws.” In 2018, the Second Circuit reinstated a claim for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA brought by participants in IBM’s 401(k) plan who suffered losses from their investment in IBM stock. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, characterizing the question as what it takes to plausibly allege an alternative action “that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it” and whether that pleading standard can be satisfied by generalized allegations that the harm of an inevitable disclosure of an alleged fraud generally increases over time.” The Court concluded that the Second Circuit did not address those questions and noted that the views of the Securities and Exchange Commission might “well be relevant” to discerning the content of ERISA’s duty of prudence in this context. View "Retirement Plans Committee of IBM v. Jander" on Justia Law

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Metz appealed the district court's judgment vacating an arbitration award that held that interest rate assumptions for purposes of withdrawal from a multiemployer pension plan liability are those in effect on the last day of the year preceding the employer's withdrawal. The district court held, however, that section 4213 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) does not require actuaries to calculate withdrawal liability based on interest rate assumptions used prior to an employer's withdrawal from a plan, and that interest rate assumptions must be affirmatively reached and may not roll over automatically from the preceding plan year. The Second Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, holding that interest rate assumptions for withdrawal liability purposes must be determined as of the last day of the year preceding the employer's withdrawal from a multiemployer pension plan. Furthermore, absent any change to the previous plan year's assumption made by the Measurement Date, the interest rate assumption in place from the previous plan year will roll over automatically. Accordingly, the court remanded with directions to enter judgment for Metz and to remand any remaining issues to the arbitrator. View "The National Retirement Fund v. Metz Culinary Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims alleging that the terms of their employee retirement benefits plan violated the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). In a prior appeal, the court affirmed the district court's holding that the plan violated the statue and remanded to the district court for consideration of the appropriate relief. On remand, defendants moved on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), contending that the relief requested by plaintiffs was unavailable as a matter of law. The district court agreed and granted defendants' motion. The court held that section 502(a)(3) authorizes district courts to grant equitable relief ‐‐ including reformation ‐‐ to remedy violations of subsection I of ERISA, even in the absence of mistake, fraud, or other conduct traditionally considered to be inequitable. Furthermore, the district court is authorized to grant plaintiffs' proposed remedy of enforcement of the reformed plan under section 502(a)(1)(B). Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Laurent v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint against Hartford Life in an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) action. The court held that the district court did not err by dismissing the complaint with prejudice, because substantial evidence supported Hartford Life's decision to terminate benefits based on exhaustion of mental illness benefits and the lack of a disabling physical condition. In this case, Hartford Life found no disabling physical condition or mental illness based on the medical evidence and the opinions of treating, examining, and reviewing physicians. View "Miller v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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When Aetna terminated plaintiff's disability benefits, she filed an Employee Retirement Income Security Act suit. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment on remand, holding that the district court did not err by determining that plaintiff failed to administratively exhaust her breach of fiduciary duty claim. View "Jones v. Aetna Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order granting a request for publication, withdrawing the panel's prior memorandum disposition, and directing the filing of an opinion; and (2) an opinion affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs in an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) class action concerning pension contributions. Amendments 14 and 24 of the fund had the effect of withholding at least $1.00 per hour from all employer contributions. Plaintiff filed a class action against the trustees under ERISA. In a prior appeal, Lehman I, the panel held that the trustees could not keep the $1.00 hourly withholdings they had made pursuant to Amendment 14. The panel affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiff and awarded damages to the class. The panel then remanded for the district court to address Amendment 24. On remand, the district court again granted summary judgment in favor of the class. The panel affirmed the district court's determination that Amendment 24 violated the plain language of Article 5 of the Pacific Coast Pension Plan, which mandated that the Plan collect and transfer all contributions received on behalf of travelers. The panel explained that the trustee's interpretation of Amendment 24 with regard to travelers' contributions was inconsistent with the Plan's own definition of "contribution." View "Lehman v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Beulah Jean James Moore ("Beulah") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of plaintiff Billy Edward Moore ("Billy"), individually and as executor of the estate of his brother and Beulah's husband, Jimmy Lee Moore ("Jimmy"), in an action filed by Billy seeking the enforcement of a prenuptial agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded summary judgment was appropriate. Beulah argued that language in the prenup discussing "spousal consents or waivers" granted her the proceeds of Jimmy's 401(k) plan and the pension plan unless a spousal waiver was executed . However, the Court found agreement made clear that Jimmy and Beulah agreed that the separate property each brought into the marriage--including the 401(k) plan and the pension plan--would remain separate. Jimmy and Beulah further agreed that neither of them would "claim, demand, assert any right to, take or receive any part of the property of the other as described on Schedules 1 and 2," which included the 401(k) plan and the pension plan. The second clause of section 4.4 allowed the owner of "an IRA or other plan account" to "direct" the "distribution of benefits" to one through a "beneficiary designation." Under this clause, Jimmy was permitted to name Billy as the designated beneficiary of the 401(k) plan and the pension plan, which he had done before he married Beulah, who had, in turn, renounced her claim to the plans. "Nothing in section 4.4 suggests that the failure to execute a spousal consent or waiver changes the parties' clear intent throughout the entire prenuptial agreement to renounce claims to the other's property; instead, the purpose of the requirement is to ensure that the parties' desires to retain control over the distribution of their accounts through a beneficiary designation is accomplished." Under those circumstances, Beulah breached the prenuptial agreement by retaining the benefits from the 401(k) plan and the pension plan. Thus, the trial court properly entered a summary judgment in favor of Billy. View "Moore v. Estate of Moore" on Justia Law

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Signode assumed an obligation to pay health-care benefits to a group of retired steelworkers and their families. Signode then exercised its right to terminate the underlying benefits agreement and also stopped providing the promised benefits to the retired steelworkers and their families, despite contractual language providing that benefits would not be “terminated … notwithstanding the expiration” of the underlying agreement. The retirees and the union filed suit under the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s entry of a permanent injunction, ordering Signode to reinstate the benefits. The agreement provided for vested benefits that would survive the agreement’s termination. While there is no longer a presumption in favor of lifetime vesting, the court applied ordinary contract law interpretation rules and concluded that the agreement unambiguously provided retirees with vested lifetime health-care benefits. Even if the agreement were ambiguous, industry usage and the behavior of the parties here provide enough evidence to support vesting such that resolution of any ambiguity in favor of the plaintiffs as a matter of law would still be correct. View "Stone v. Signode Industrial Group LLC" on Justia Law

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The Union and the NECA Electrical Contractors Association entered into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) providing health, welfare, and pension benefits for union workers. The Funds operate as trusts for these benefits. Employers, who are members of NECA, self-report the benefits they owe. Veterans Electric participated in NECA, assented to the CBA, and contributed to the Funds for its union employees. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132(g), governs benefit plans between labor unions and multiemployer associations. The Funds attempted to audit Veterans’ payroll records. Veterans only provided records for union employees, which accounted for about half of the total reported wages. The Funds requested payroll information for non-union employees. Veterans refused, contending that the records were outside the scope of a proper audit under the CBA. The Funds filed suit. During discovery, Veterans provided the additional payroll information. The district court granted Veterans summary judgment, limiting the scope of the trustees’ audit authority. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Under the CBA, the trustees’ authority to audit payroll records includes “all employees regardless of membership or non-membership in the Union.” In light of the ERISA fiduciary duties imposed on union trustees and the authority under the Trust Agreements, the Funds had the right to conduct random audits on employer payroll records. View "Electrical Construction Industry Prefunding Credit Reimbursement Program v. Veterans Electric, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case arose from plaintiffs' action against NYU, alleging violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in connection with two retirement plans sponsored by NYU (Sacerdote I). After the district court dismissed most, but not all of the causes of action, plaintiffs filed this action against affiliates of NYU and Cammack, an independent investment management company (Sacerdote II). The district court dismissed all claims against defendants. The Second Circuit dismissed the district court's judgment, holding that the district court erred by determining that Cammack and NYU were in privity such that the rule against duplicate litigation applied to bar recovery against Cammack in Sacerdote II. In this case, Cammack and NYU's interests were not sufficiently identical to support a finding of privity; the bases for liability for NYU and Cammack were not necessarily the same; and it was possible that one party could be found liable and the other not. Cammack and NYU had separate and distinct responsibilities as co-fiduciaries to the plans at issue, and could be found liable for plaintiffs' injuries for separate reasons. Finally, the court held that the representative suit exception to a plaintiff's right to sue each defendant separately did not apply here. View "Sacerdote v. Cammack Larhette Advisors, LLC" on Justia Law