Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

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The case revolves around the Employees Retirement System of the Government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (ERS), which was established in 1951 as the Commonwealth's pension program for public employees. The appellants are seven individual beneficiaries of pensions paid by ERS. They had been litigating claims against UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) in the Commonwealth Court of First Instance related to UBS's role in issuing ERS pension funding bonds in 2008. Meanwhile, in January 2022, as part of its broad authority to promulgate orders necessary to carry out the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), the district court confirmed the Modified Eighth Amended Title III Joint Plan of Adjustment (the Plan).The district court had previously confirmed the Plan, which implemented several changes related to ERS and its pension plan payments to retired Commonwealth employees. The Plan replaced the Committee with the Avoidance Action Trustee as the plaintiff with exclusive power to prosecute the Underwriter Action and recover damages that ERS incurred. The Plan also ordered the immediate dissolution of ERS.UBS filed a motion to enforce the Plan, requesting that the district court enjoin the ERS Beneficiaries from pursuing the Commonwealth Action. The district court granted UBS's motion and enjoined the ERS Beneficiaries from pursuing the Commonwealth Action. The district court concluded that the ERS Beneficiaries' Commonwealth Action claims were rooted in a generalized injury and were derivative of ERS's right to recover on its own behalf. The district court further rejected the ERS Beneficiaries' arguments that they were entitled to recover for non-derivative general tort claims against UBS under various Commonwealth statutes.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, concluding that the ERS Beneficiaries sought to raise derivative claims that belong exclusively to the Trustee or the Commonwealth. The court held that continued litigation of the FAC's derivative claims violates the terms of the Plan and PROMESA. View "UBS Financial Services Inc. v. Estate of Jose Nazario Serrano" on Justia Law

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The Trustees of the New York State Nurses Association Pension Plan (the Trustees) and White Oak Global Advisors, LLC (White Oak) entered into an investment management agreement, which included an arbitration clause. The Trustees later brought several fiduciary duty claims against White Oak under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which were resolved through arbitration. The arbitrator issued an award in favor of the Trustees, which the Trustees sought to confirm in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.White Oak appealed the confirmation, arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction and that the court erroneously interpreted the award. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's jurisdiction, finding that the Trustees' petition to confirm the award was cognizable under ERISA § 502(a)(3). The court also affirmed the district court's interpretation of the award regarding the disgorgement of pre-award interest and the "Day One" fees. However, the court vacated and remanded the district court's confirmation of the disgorgement of White Oak's "profits," finding the award too ambiguous to enforce. The court also vacated and remanded the district court's order for White Oak to pay the Trustees' attorneys' fees and costs, finding the district court's findings insufficiently specific. View "Trustees of the NYSNAPP v. White Oak Glob. Adv." on Justia Law

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The case involves plaintiffs Nancy Mator and Robert Mator, who are participants in the Wesco Distribution, Inc. Retirement Savings Plan. They sued Wesco Distribution, Inc., its fiduciaries, and the Plan, alleging that they violated fiduciary duties imposed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) by paying excessive recordkeeping fees and failing to monitor the Plan. The District Court dismissed the complaint with prejudice.The plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. They argued that the District Court erred in dismissing their complaint, which alleged that Wesco breached its fiduciary duties under ERISA by causing the Plan to pay excessive recordkeeping fees, offering retail-class shares of mutual funds, and failing to monitor those responsible for the Plan.The Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs. It found that the plaintiffs' allegations were sufficient to state a claim for breach of fiduciary duty. The Court noted that the plaintiffs provided specific plan comparators and plausibly alleged that the services purchased were sufficiently similar to render the comparisons valid. The Court also found that the plaintiffs adequately alleged a fiduciary breach based on the Plan’s offerings of retail-class mutual fund shares.The Court of Appeals vacated the District Court's dismissal of the complaint and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Mator v. Wesco Distribution Inc" on Justia Law

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The case involves pension plan participants, Evelyn Wilson and Stephen Bafford, who alleged that the plan administrator, the Administrative Committee of the Northrop Grumman Pension Plan, violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by not providing pension benefit statements automatically or on request, and by providing inaccurate pension benefit statements prior to their retirements. The district court initially dismissed the case, but on appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and vacated in part the dismissal, allowing the plaintiffs to file amended complaints.Upon remand, the plaintiffs filed amended complaints, but the district court dismissed their claims again. The plaintiffs appealed once more to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit held that the lower court's prior mandate did not preclude the plaintiffs from pleading their claim for violation of ERISA on remand. The court also held that the plaintiffs stated a viable claim under ERISA by alleging that the plan administrator provided substantially inaccurate pension benefit statements.The court rejected the administrator’s argument that there were no remedies available for the ERISA violations the plaintiffs alleged. As a result, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "BAFFORD V. ADMINISTRATIVE CMTE. OF THE NORTHROP GRUMMAN PLAN" on Justia Law

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Donald Artz, an electric distribution controller at WEC Energy Group, retired due to multiple sclerosis (MS) and sought long-term disability benefits from a plan administered by Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company. Hartford denied his claim, asserting that Artz was not "disabled" within the plan's definition. Artz filed a lawsuit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, alleging that Hartford's disability determination was arbitrary and capricious because it misconstrued the plan's terms and failed to provide a reasonable explanation for its decision.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The district court upheld the denial of benefits at summary judgment, concluding that Artz had placed too much emphasis on the duties of his specific position at WEC rather than the "essential duties" of his job in the general workplace as required by the company’s plan. The court also underscored the independent medical reviews commissioned by Hartford and found the medical evidence supported the conclusion that Artz’s MS did not prevent him from working a standard 40-hour week as a power-distribution engineer.The case was then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The appellate court affirmed the district court's decision, finding that Hartford had communicated rational reasons for its decision based on a fair reading of the plan and Artz’s medical records. The court concluded that the plan administrator provided sufficient process and that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act requires no more. The court noted that while Artz's condition was serious, the evidence did not show that the severity and persistency of his symptoms resulted in functional impairment as defined by the policy. View "Artz v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The case involves Ramon Dejesus Cedeno, an employee of Strategic Financial Solutions, LLC, and a participant in its Strategic Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Cedeno sued the company, its trustee Argent Trust Company, and other defendants under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), alleging that a transaction caused the Plan to incur substantial losses and that Argent breached fiduciary duties owed to Plan participants. The defendants moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), pointing to a provision in the Plan’s governing document that required Plan participants to resolve any claims related to the Plan in arbitration.The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York denied the motion, reasoning that the agreement was unenforceable because it would prevent Cedeno from effectuating rights guaranteed by Congress through ERISA, namely, the plan-wide relief available under Section 502(a)(2) to enforce the rights established in ERISA Section 409(a).On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the arbitration provision is unenforceable because it would prevent Cedeno from pursuing the Plan-wide remedies Sections 409(a) and 502(a)(2) unequivocally provide. The court concluded that the entire arbitration provision is null and void due to a non-severability clause in the Plan. View "Cedeno v. Sasson" on Justia Law

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The case involves Appvion, Inc., a Wisconsin-based paper company, which was sold to its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 2001. The company declared bankruptcy in 2017. Grant Lyon, acting on behalf of the ESOP, filed a lawsuit against various individuals and corporations, alleging that they fraudulently inflated the price of Appvion in 2001 and that the price remained inflated until Appvion’s bankruptcy. The district court dismissed almost all the claims.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of some claims and reversed and remanded others. The court affirmed the dismissal of claims related to actions before November 26, 2012, as they were time-barred under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). However, the court reversed the dismissal of claims related to actions after November 26, 2012, finding that the plaintiff had adequately alleged that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties under ERISA by failing to ensure that the company's valuations were sound. The court also reversed the dismissal of claims alleging that the defendants engaged in prohibited transactions and co-fiduciary liability. The court affirmed the dismissal of state-law claims against the defendants, finding them preempted by ERISA. View "Appvion, Inc. Retirement Savings and Employee Stock Ownership Plan v. Buth" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Dycom Industries, Inc. ("Dycom") and its predecessor, Midtown Express, LLC ("Midtown"), a cable contractor that installed, serviced, and disconnected telecommunications cables for Time Warner Cable Company customers in New York City and Bergen County, New Jersey. Midtown had collective bargaining agreements with Local Union No. 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which required contributions to the Pension, Hospitalization & Benefit Plan of the Electrical Industry (the "Fund"), a multiemployer pension plan under ERISA. In 2016, Midtown ceased operations and contributions to the Fund, leading the Fund to assess withdrawal liability against Midtown and its successor, Dycom, under ERISA.Midtown demanded arbitration, arguing that its employees were performing work in the building and construction industry, and thus it was exempt from withdrawal liability under ERISA. The arbitrator determined that Midtown did not qualify for the exemption, concluding that Midtown's employees did not perform work in the building and construction industry. Dycom then filed a lawsuit to vacate the arbitrator's award, and the Fund filed a cross-motion to confirm the award. The district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, denied Dycom's motion to vacate the award, and granted the Fund's cross-motion to confirm the award.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The court concluded that the cable installation services at issue did not involve work in the "building and construction industry" under ERISA, and thus Dycom was not exempt from withdrawal liability. The court found that the arbitrator correctly determined that the work performed by Midtown was not work within the building and construction industry under ERISA, and thus the exemption did not apply. View "Dycom Indus., Inc. v. Pension, Hosp'n & Benefit Plan of the Elec. Indus." on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Ryan S., filed a class action lawsuit against UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries (collectively, “UnitedHealthcare”) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). He alleged that UnitedHealthcare applies a more stringent review process to benefits claims for outpatient, out-of-network mental health and substance use disorder (“MH/SUD”) treatment than to otherwise comparable medical/surgical treatment. Ryan S. asserted that by doing so, UnitedHealthcare violated the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (“Parity Act”), breached its fiduciary duty, and violated the terms of his plan.The district court granted UnitedHealthcare’s motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) based primarily on its conclusions that Ryan S. failed to allege that his claims had been “categorically” denied and insufficiently identified analogous medical/surgical claims that he had personally submitted and UnitedHealthcare had processed more favorably.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part the district court’s judgment. The panel concluded that Ryan S. adequately stated a claim for a violation of the Parity Act. The panel explained that an ERISA plan can violate the Parity Act in different ways, including by applying, as Ryan S. alleged here, a more stringent internal process to MH/SUD claims than to medical/surgical claims. The panel also concluded that Ryan S. alleged a breach of fiduciary duty. However, as Ryan S. failed to identify any specific plan terms that the alleged practices would violate, the panel affirmed the dismissal of his claims based on a violation of the terms of his plan. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ryan S. v. UnitedHealth Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard an appeal from Bulk Transport Corp. against Teamsters Union No. 142 Pension Fund and its Trustees. The dispute originated from two collective-bargaining agreements between Bulk Transport and Teamsters Local 142, active from 2003 to 2006. The Union insisted that Bulk Transport apply one such agreement, the Steel Mill Addendum, to non-steel mill work (LISCO work), which Bulk Transport initially did, subsequently making pension contributions on behalf of the LISCO workers. However, when Bulk Transport lost the LISCO contract, they ceased these contributions, leading to the Pension Fund assessing a withdrawal liability of about $2 million under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA).After arbitration, Bulk Transport paid but demanded a review of the decision. The district court agreed with the arbitrator's ruling that Bulk Transport had adopted the Addendum by conduct, and thus the Pension Fund was entitled to the withdrawal liability. The district court also denied Bulk Transport's request for a refund.The Seventh Circuit, however, reversed the district court's decision. It held that the written agreement, not the practice or conduct, should dictate the terms of pension contributions to multi-employer plans. The written agreement in this case did not cover the LISCO work, and the court rejected the argument that Bulk Transport's conduct altered the substantive terms of the agreement. The court held that the writings were conclusive and that employers and unions could not opt-out of the requirements orally or through their course of conduct. The court affirmed the district court's denial of attorney's fees for the Pension Fund and remanded the case with instructions to order the Pension Fund to repay the withdrawal liability it collected from Bulk Transport. View "Bulk Transport, Corp. v. Teamsters Union Local 142" on Justia Law