Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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This appeal concerned a dispute between employees represented by a Union and their successor employer. The parties agreed to arbitrate this dispute regarding change in the terms of pension provision in a collective bargaining agreement. The district court refused to compel arbitration on the grounds that ERISA preempted the Union’s claims, and this, in turn, presented an issue of arbitrability properly decided by a judge, not an arbitrator. The First Circuit vacated the order of the district court and remanded with instructions to grant the Union’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that the issue of ERISA preemption in this case was not an issue of arbitrability but, rather, one that was squarely for the arbitrator to decide. View "Prime Healthcare Services - Landmark LLC v. United Nurses & Allied Professionals, Local 5067" on Justia Law

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Central States is multiemployer pension fund. Bulk Transport is a Fund member and made contributions to the pension account of its employee, Loniewski. Bulk had certified that Loniewski was entitled by a collective bargaining agreement to participate in the Fund although the agreement was limited to Bulk’s drivers. Loniewski was a Bulk mechanic for 40 years. Bulk now denies that he was covered and has demanded that Central States refund $49,000 that Bulk had contributed to Loniewski’s pension account between 2002 and 2012. The Fund denied the request and sought a declaratory judgment. The district judge rejected Bulk’s claim. The Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 amends ERISA by imposing liabilty on employers who withdraw, partially or completely, from participation in an underfunded multiemployer pension fund, 29 U.S.C. 1381. Central States also assessed Bulk with withdrawal liability of $740,000 for the years 2010 through 2012, which Bulk challenged as excessive. At Bulk’s request, the court barred the Fund from enforcing its rules, which require arbitration of such a dispute by and conforming to the procedures of the American Arbitration Association. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to the refund, but reversed with respect to the arbitration rules. View "Cent. States, SE & SW Areas Pension Funds v. Bulk Transp. Corp." on Justia Law

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UEBT is a healthcare employee benefits trust governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, and pays healthcare providers directly from its own funds for the services provided to enrollees in its health plans. UEBT contracted with a “network vendor,” Blue Shield, to obtain access to Blue Shield’s provider network at the rates Blue Shield had separately negotiated, and certain administrative services. One of Blue Shield’s preexisting provider contracts was with Sutter, a group of health care providers in Northern California. UEBT sued Sutter, on behalf of a putative class of all California self-funded payors, alleging that Sutter’s contracts with network vendors, such as Blue Shield, contain anticompetitive terms that insulate Sutter from competition and drive up the cost of healthcare. UEBT sought damages, restitution, and injunctive relief under the Cartwright Act (Bus. & Prof. Code 16720) and California’s unfair competition law (section 17200). Sutter moved to compel arbitration, relying on an arbitration clause in the provider contract signed by Sutter and Blue Shield. The trial court denied Sutter’s motion, concluding that UEBT was not bound to arbitrate its claims pursuant to an agreement it had not signed or even seen. The court of appeal affirmed. View "UFCW & Employers Benefit Trust v. Sutter Health" on Justia Law

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Employers that withdraw from underfunded multiemployer pension plans must pay their share of the shortfall. They can seek recalculation of the plans' assessment within 90 days, 29 U.S.C. 1399(b)(2)(A), and within another 60 days, may invoke a process that the Act calls arbitration, though it is neither contractual nor consensual. Central States Pension Fund concluded that US Foods has withdrawn in part and assessed liability in 2008 and in 2009. US Foods timely requested arbitration of the 2009 assessment, but did not timely seek arbitration of the 2008 assessment. In the Fund’s suit to collect the 2008 assessment, US Foods asked the court to order the arbitrator to calculate the amount due for 2008 and 2009 jointly. The court ruled that US Foods had missed the deadline for arbitral resolution of the 2008 assessment. US Foods appealed, relying on 9 U.S.C.16(a)(1)(B), which authorizes an interlocutory appeal from an order “denying a petition under section 4 of this title to order arbitration to proceed”. The Seventh Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. An order declining to interfere in the conduct of an arbitration is not an order “denying a petition under section 4 of this title to order arbitration to proceed” under section 16(a)(1)(B). View "Cent. States SE & SW Areas Pension Fund v. US Foods, Inc." on Justia Law

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The employers were formerly contributing members of the Teamsters Local Union No. 293 Pension Plan. In 2007-2008 each employer reached an agreement with the Plan to terminate its membership. They were required to pay, and have paid, “withdrawal liability” reflecting each employer’s share of unfunded, vested pension benefits under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, 29 U.S.C. 1381–1461. Under the Act, if the plan is terminated altogether by a “mass withdrawal” of the remaining members within three years, the earlier withdrawing members may be subject to additional “reallocation liability.” Disputes about the amount of such reallocation liability are subject to mandatory arbitration. The employers claim that a 2009 mass withdrawal was expedited to occur within the three-year period in order that they would be subject to reallocation liability. The Plan trustees sought more than $12 million in additional funds from the employers. The district court dismissed their suit for failure to complete arbitration. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Act requires that the claim of “sham” mass withdrawal be arbitrated. View "Knall Beverage, Inc. v. Teamsters Local Union No. 293 Pension Plan" on Justia Law

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IPS appealed the district court's denial of its motion to compel arbitration and stay plaintiffs' claims against it. Plaintiffs cross-appeal, disputing the preemption of their claims under the Employment Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., and alleging a lack of federal jurisdiction. The court found that jurisdiction was proper and affirmed the district court's denial of IPS's motion to compel arbitration. View "Ehlen Floor Covering, Inc., et al. v. Innovative Pension Strategies, Inc." on Justia Law

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After two years of contributing to a multiemployer pension plan established under a collective bargaining agreement, the company closed the covered facility, triggering withdrawal liability. The union notified the company of its liability under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. 1001, as amended by the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980, 29 U.S.C. 1301-1461, and set a 20-year schedule requiring payment of $652 per month. The union sent another letter, months later, saying that it had miscalculated monthly payments, but not the underlying withdrawal liability, and advised the company to increase monthly payments to $978. The company timely paid the original amount, but refused to pay the revised sum. The company requested arbitration, but after a finding that it was not required to pay the higher amount in the interim, withdrew. The district court dismissed the union's suit based on the calculation. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded without reaching the statutory interpretation issue, based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. A plan may correct perceived errors in calculation and revise an assessment as long as the employer is not prejudiced. At that point the exhaustion provisions of the MPPAA apply to the revised assessment as they would to the original. View "Nat'l Shopmen Pension Fund v. DISA Indus., Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, compelling arbitration of a dispute related to healthcare benefits under an expired collective bargaining agreement. At issue was whether the district court erred in granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and issuing an order compelling the arbitration. The court reversed and held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment and compelling arbitration where both parties vigorously disputed issues of both law and fact, including whether the 1994 agreement was ambiguous and whether the summary plan descriptions constituted an intrinsic or extrinsic evidence of the parties' intent. The parties also point to various other extrinsic evidence and vehemently disagree as to whether the bargained for fully-paid health insurance premiums for life or just for the term of the agreement. Under these circumstances, the court held that the question of whether the right to fully-paid premiums vested under the 1994 agreement was best decided in the first instance by the district court and therefore, remanded for further proceedings. View "Newspaper Guild of St. Louis v. St. Louis Post Dispatch, LLC" on Justia Law