Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries
Ovist v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to Defendant and dismissing Plaintiff's action brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq, holding that summary judgment was properly granted.Plaintiff was a participant in her employer's long-term disability plan, which was insured and administered by Defendant, Unum Life Insurance Company of America, and governed by ERISA. In 2011, Plaintiff was granted benefits under the plan. In 2015, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's benefits. Plaintiff brought this action seeking recovery and reinstatement of her benefits. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's requirement that Plaintiff provide objective evidence of her functional limitations in order to avoid a limitation in the plan was reasonable; and (2) substantial evidence supported Defendant's determination that Plaintiff lacked objective proof in her functional limitations. View "Ovist v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America" on Justia Law
Warmenhoven v. NetApp, Inc.
Plaintiff and six other retired executives sued NetApp and the Plan, alleging that terminating the Plan violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) because they had been promised lifetime benefits. The complaint alleged two distinct ERISA claims: (1) a direct claim for benefits under 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B); and (2) an alternate claim for equitable relief under section 1132(a)(3) to redress NetApp's alleged misrepresentations that the Plan would provide lifetime benefits. After the district court granted summary judgment in favor of NetApp, only plaintiff appealed.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to plaintiff's section 1132(a)(1)(B) claim, rejecting plaintiff's contention that NetApp's promises in the PowerPoints created an ERISA plan with lifetime benefits. Furthermore, by deliberately choosing to stand on his flawed argument that the PowerPoints created a vested ERISA plan without there being any written instrument, and by declining to argue in the alternative that he could prevail even if section 1102(b) applied, plaintiff has affirmatively waived any argument under the proper legal standard that the PowerPoints were written instruments. The panel explained that that waiver conclusively defeats his section 1132(a)(1)(B) claim because, under Cinelli v. Sec. Pac. Corp., 61 F.3d 1437, 1441 (9th Cir. 1995), he bears the burden to prove that a specific written instrument vested lifetime benefits.The panel vacated the judgment as to plaintiff's section 1132(a)(3) claim, disagreeing with the district court's conclusion that no reasonable factfinder could find that NetApp committed a remediable wrong. Rather, the panel concluded that plaintiff's fiduciary duty claim survives summary judgment on the remediable wrong issue, because there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether NetApp incorrectly represented to Plan participants that the Plan provided lifetime health insurance benefits. Accordingly, the panel remanded the issue for further proceedings. View "Warmenhoven v. NetApp, Inc." on Justia Law
Smith v. Board of Directors of Triad Manufacturing, Inc.
Plaintiff filed a class action complaint under the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) against the fiduciaries of the retirement plan offered by his former employer, Triad, for alleged financial misconduct.The Seventh Circuit concluded that the ERISA provisions that plaintiff invokes have individual and plan-wide effect. However, the arbitration provision in Triad's defined contribution retirement plan precludes relief that "has the purpose or effect of providing additional benefits or monetary or other relief to any Eligible Employee, Participant or Beneficiary other than the Claimant." Therefore, this provision prohibits relief that ERISA expressly permits. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Triad's motion to compel arbitration or, in the alternative, to dismiss. View "Smith v. Board of Directors of Triad Manufacturing, Inc." on Justia Law
Sacerdote v. New York University
Plaintiffs, participants of retirement plans administered by NYU and NYU School of Medicine, filed suit against NYU in its capacity as the fiduciary of plaintiffs' retirement plans, alleging breaches of NYU's fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).The Second Circuit vacated in part, concluding that the district court erred in dismissing the share-class claim because it was adequately pled and dismissal was not harmless. The court also vacated the denial of leave to amend and denial of the prejudiced post-trial motions because the district court erred in denying the motion to amend the complaint to add individual Committee members as defendants, an error that later prejudiced two of plaintiffs' post-trial motions.However, the court affirmed the judgment against plaintiffs regarding claims that they were entitled to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment; the use of written declarations for all direct testimony violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and denied them a fair trial; the district court's trial findings in NYU's favor on the recordkeeper-consolidation claim and the investment-retention claim were clearly erroneous; and Judge Forrest should have been disqualified from presiding over this case. View "Sacerdote v. New York University" on Justia Law
Division 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union v. New York City Department of Education
The Second Circuit held that the district court did not err in dismissing the Fund's amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) with prejudice where the Fund failed to plausibly state a claim for delinquent contributions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The court adopted in full the district court's reasoning. Specifically, the court held that the Fund failed to plausibly allege that the contractors had obligations to contribute to the Fund, as would be required for a delinquent contribution claim under ERISA; neither the contracts for school bus services nor the Fund's governing documents required the contractors to make the contributions demanded; and the Employee Protection Provision did not constitute either an ERISA pension plan or a collectively bargained agreement. Finally, the court agreed with the district court that the Fund failed to plausibly allege that defendants are liable under ERISA as fiduciaries or by participating in prohibited transactions. View "Division 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union v. New York City Department of Education" on Justia Law
Mayer v. Ringler Associates Inc. and Af.
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment sustaining the final determination of Hartford Life with respect to plaintiff's disability benefits under the terms of the long term disability plan.The court held that California Insurance Code 10110.6(a) applies only to the claims of California residents. It does not apply to plaintiff because he was a New York resident at all relevant times. The court also held that "full and fair review" under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act's (ERISA) claims-procedure regulations does not require the claims administrator to produce documents developed or considered during the appeal from the initial determination while the claim is still under review and before a final benefits determination. Therefore, plaintiff cannot establish that Hartford Life did not provide his claim a full and fair review. In this case, the district court correctly reviewed Hartford Life's determination under the arbitrary-and-capricious standard and correctly concluded that the final determination was reasonable and supported by substantial evidence in the record. View "Mayer v. Ringler Associates Inc. and Af." on Justia Law
Nowicki v. Contra Costa County Employees’ Retirement Ass’n
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of CCCERA following the denial of plaintiff's fourth amended petition for writ of mandate (petition) filed under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085. Plaintiff alleged that CCCERA and its governing Board improperly reduced his retirement benefits retroactively, pursuant to Government Code section 31539.The court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion by deciding to reduce plaintiff's retirement allowance. The court explained that, in light of legislative history and the law in existence at the time of plaintiff's retirement, the Board's determination that plaintiff caused his pension to be improperly increased at the time of retirement, pursuant to subdivision (a)(2) of section 31539, was not in conformity with the spirit of the law and did not subserve substantial justice. In this case, although the court recognized plaintiff's pre-retirement efforts to increase his compensation earnable in the period before his retirement, which allowed him to maximize his pension and epitomized the act of pension spiking which led to the subsequent enactment of the California Public Employees' Pension Reform Act of 2013 (PEPRA), the court cannot sanction the Board's legally unsupported use of section 31539 to penalize plaintiff for conduct that—while now prohibited under the PEPRA—was expressly permitted at the time of his retirement. View "Nowicki v. Contra Costa County Employees' Retirement Ass'n" on Justia Law
United States v. Frank
Frank embezzled $19 million from his former employer, NCI, and pleaded guilty to wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343. The district court sentenced Frank to 78-months’ imprisonment and ordered Frank to pay restitution of $19,440,331. The government has recovered over $7 million and attempted to garnish Frank’s 401(k) retirement account under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA), filing an Application for Writ of Continuing Garnishment, 18 U.S.C. 3664(m)(1)(A)(i), naming Schwab as the garnishee. Schwab currently holds approximately $479,504 in Frank's 401(k) account, which is covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001. Frank argued that ERISA’s anti-alienation provision protects retirement plans against claims by third parties. The Fourth Circuit affirmed that the MVRA permits the seizure of Frank’s 401(k) retirement account, notwithstanding ERISA’s protections. When the government enforces a restitution order under the MVRA, it stands in the shoes of the defendant, acquiring whatever rights to 401(k) retirement funds he possesses; the government’s access to the funds in Frank’s 401(k) account may be limited by terms set out in Frank’s plan documents or by early withdrawal penalties to which Frank would be subject. The court remanded so that the district court may decide what present property right Frank has in his account. The court rejected an argument that the Consumer Credit Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. 1673(a), limits the government to taking 25 percent of the funds. View "United States v. Frank" on Justia Law
Nesse v. Green Nature-Cycle, LLC
Trustees of five multi-employer benefits funds filed suit against Green Nature under section 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), alleging that Green Nature failed to contribute to the funds on behalf of its non-union employees and sought to collect from Green Nature the delinquent contributions, interest, costs, and attorney's fees.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the trustees. The court concluded that the district court correctly determined that the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) unambiguously required fringe benefit contributions for non-union employees. The court also found that an award of delinquent fringe benefit contributions would not improperly require Green Nature to "duplicate fringe contributions." The court need not determine whether issue preclusion could ever be a valid defense to a collection action because the substantive elements of issue preclusion are not satisfied. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the trustees attorney's fees and in declining to reduce the amount. View "Nesse v. Green Nature-Cycle, LLC" on Justia Law
Halperin v. Richards
While Appvion was in financial distress, 2012-2016, the defendants allegedly fraudulently inflated stock valuations to enrich the directors and officers, whose pay was tied to the valuations of its ERISA-covered Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). They allegedly carried out this scheme with knowing aid from the ESOP trustee, Argent, and its independent appraiser, Stout. Appvion directors allegedly provided unlawful dividends to its parent company by forgiving intercompany notes. Appvion filed for bankruptcy protection. Appvion’s bankruptcy creditors were given authority to pursue certain corporation-law claims on behalf of Appvion to recover losses from the defendants’ alleged wrongs against the corporation; they brought state law claims against the directors and officers for breaching their corporate fiduciary duties; alleged that Argent and Stout aided and abetted those breaches, and asserted state-law unlawful dividend claims. The defendants argued that their roles in Appvion’s ESOP valuations were governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which preempted state corporation-law liability and that, despite their dual roles as corporate and ERISA fiduciaries, they acted exclusively under ERISA when carrying out ESOP activities, 29 U.S.C. 1002(21)(A). The district court agreed and dismissed.The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. ERISA does not preempt the claims against directors and officers. ERISA expressly contemplates parallel corporate liability against those who serve dual roles as both corporate and ERISA fiduciaries. ERISA preempts the claims against Argent and Stout. Corporation-law aiding and abetting liability against these defendants would interfere with the cornerstone of ERISA’s fiduciary duties—Section 404's exclusive benefit rule. View "Halperin v. Richards" on Justia Law