Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
Rebecca, employed by SNS, enrolled herself and her husband in SNS’s health-benefits coverage. In 2013, Rebecca fell at work and injured her knee. Her injury was too severe to permit her to continue working. She signed a form requesting to open a workers’ compensation claim and to receive a leave of absence. The form did not mention the “Family and Medical Leave Act.” SNS sent a letter instructing her to complete paperwork for processing her absence under the FMLA. She did so. SNS approved her leave of absence as FMLA leave (rather than paid leave) for the first 12 weeks, but did not give her any other written notice of that designation. SNS deducted her insurance contributions from her workers’ compensation checks. SNS notified Rebecca when her FMLA leave expired, stating that, if her employment was terminated, she could continue health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA). Having received no premium payment weeks later, SNS notified Rebecca that the benefits had been discontinued. SNS terminated her employment. Rebecca sued, alleging that SNS failed to notify her of the right to temporarily continue health-benefit coverage under COBRA and breached its fiduciary duty under ERISA by failing to so notify her. The district court determined that a qualifying event occurred with the reduction in Rebecca’s work hours on the day after her injury, requiring notice. The Sixth Circuit reversed because the terms of Rebecca’s insurance coverage did not change upon her taking a leave of absence. No “qualifying event” occurred to trigger a COBRA notification obligation. View "Morehouse v. Steak N Shake" on Justia Law

by
In this Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) contract dispute, the district court determined that the provider had standing to bring this lawsuit because an anti-assignment provision in the plan was ambiguous or, in the alternative, because the anti-assignment provision was rendered unenforceable by a Tennessee statute. The Fifth Circuit held that the plan's anti-assignment clause unambiguously prohibits the beneficiary from assigning his or her right to sue under the plan to a third-party provider. The court also held that the Tennessee statute, Tenn. Code Ann. 56-7-120(a) (2012), was preempted by ERISA. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment on the issue of whether plaintiff had standing to bring this lawsuit; vacated the district court's subsequent judgments; and rendered judgment that the case shall be dismissed based on lack of jurisdiction. View "Dialysis Newco, Inc. v. Community Health Systems Group Health Plan" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit held that the district court properly exercised federal jurisdiction and correctly denied plaintiff's remand motion because his state law claims could have been brought as Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) claims. The panel also held that the district court correctly held that two Hawai'i statutes restricting health insurers' subrogation recovery rights are saved from preemption under ERISA section 514, were not subject to conflict preemption under section 502, and provided the relevant rule of decision in the removed action. Because the parties stipulated that HMAA had no valid lien if the Hawai'i Statutes provided the relevant rule of decision, the panel held that the district court properly entered a final judgment in plaintiff's favor View "Rudel v. Hawai'i Management Alliance Assoc." on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that the denial of Plaintiff's disability benefits claim violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., holding that Aetna Life Insurance Company's decision to deny Plaintiff's benefits claim was arbitrary and capricious. Plaintiff employed for benefits under his employer's long-term disability benefits plan, which Aetna administered and funded, after Plaintiff was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Aetna denied the application under the plan's exclusion for disabilities caused by pre-existing conditions. Plaintiff subsequently brought this action. The district court entered judgment for Plaintiff and awarded him back benefits, interest, fees, and costs. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that an unconflicted fiduciary would likely have found coverage. The Court remanded the case for any further proceedings that may be necessary. View "Lavery v. Restoration Hardware Long Term Disability Benefits Plan" on Justia Law