Justia ERISA Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Burke v. Boeing Co.
In this putative class action filed shortly after two fatal crashes of new Boeing 737 MAX airliners led to a worldwide grounding of those planes and a halt to production, resulting to a significant drop in the value of Boeing stock, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), holding that there was no error.At issue was The Boeing Company's employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) and whether Boeing plan fiduciaries' delegation to an independent outside fiduciary the selection and management of investment options for the ESOP protected the company and company insiders from liability for the plan's continued offering of Boeing stock as an independent option for employees before and during the time when the Boeing stock dropped. Plaintiffs argued that Boeing's continuous concealment of material facts relating to the 737 MAX jets caused the price of the stock to be artificially inflated and that Defendants should disclosed the safety issues to the public immediately. The district court dismissed the action. The Seventh District affirmed, holding that the delegation of investment decisions to an independent fiduciary meant that Boeing did not act in an ERISA fiduciary capacity in connection with the continued investments in Boeing stock. View "Burke v. Boeing Co." on Justia Law
Local 705 International Brotherhood of Teamsters Pension Fund v. Pitello
Gradei’s withdrew from a multi-employer pension plan, asserting that it had ceased all operations covered by the governing multi-employer collective bargaining agreement and was no longer required to contribute to the Fund, which sought to collect $221,932.55 in withdrawal liability. Gradei’s did not respond to payment demands and filed for bankruptcy. The Fund sued the Pitellos (Gradei’s owners) and another corporation owned by the Pitellos (GX), on the theory that they were businesses under common control. The district court found that Gradei’s and GX were conducting business rent-free on property owned by the Pitellos, which was enough to establish common control.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1381(a), 1404(a) withdrawal liability applies to the withdrawing employer and to “all trades or businesses ... under common control” with that employer. The court rejected Pitello’s argument that the property was only a passive investment. It is possible to rebut the presumption that leasing property to a withdrawing employer is a business but the Pitellos failed to do that. The court noted the economic equivalence between a return on investment in the form of rent collection and return on investment in the form of dividends or salaries made possible by the absence of any rent obligation. The land is part of the business. View "Local 705 International Brotherhood of Teamsters Pension Fund v. Pitello" on Justia Law
Johnson v. Charps Welding & Fabricating, Inc.
Trustees of three employee benefit funds filed suit against Charps and others, alleging that defendants breached collective bargaining agreements by not contributing to the employee benefit funds for work performed by the affiliates, in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The district court granted summary judgment to defendants, awarding them attorney's fees and costs.The Eighth Circuit held that defendants did not owe contributions for the affiliates' work where the trustees have not shown a genuine issue that the defendant companies formed a relationship of alter ego, joint venture, or joint enterprise. Furthermore, the collective bargaining agreements did not require defendants to contribute for the work of Charps' affiliates. The court also held that the trustees did not meet their burden in opposing summary judgment on their claim that the district court failed to address Charps' liability for contributions based on its own employees' work, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying, as duplicative, the trustees' motion to compel production of the spreadsheets.Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment in 18-3007, but reversed and remanded in 19-1206. On remand, the district court should award costs that are taxable under 28 U.S.C. 1821 and 1920. In regard to the nontaxable costs, the district court may determine whether they may be awarded as attorney's fees. View "Johnson v. Charps Welding & Fabricating, Inc." on Justia Law
Encompass Off Solutions, Inc. v. Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity Co.
Encompass filed suit against Blue Cross for violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), breach of contract, defamation, and tortious interference with business relations. After Blue Cross largely prevailed at trial, the district court granted a new trial because of error in the jury charge. At the second trial, Encompass prevailed on all claims.The Fifth Circuit held that charging the jury with an incorrect standard of liability supported granting a new trial, and thus the district court did not abuse its discretion by granting Encompass a new trial on the breach of contract claims. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by granting a new trial on the tort claims considering the interdependence of the tort and contract issues. Finally, the court held that the application of contra non valentem was not wrong as a matter of law, and Blue Cross abused its discretion by arbitrarily denying Encompass's claims for covered services under ERISA. View "Encompass Off Solutions, Inc. v. Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity Co." on Justia Law
Brotherston v. Putnam Investments, LLC
The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court in part ruling in favor of Putnam Investments, LLC and other fiduciaries of Putnam’s defined-contribution 401(k) retirement plan on Plaintiffs’ lawsuit claiming that Defendants breached fiduciary duties to the plan's participants, clarifying several principles for the district court that should guide its subsequent rulings on remand.Plaintiffs, two former Putnam employees who participated in the Plan, brought this lawsuit on behalf of a now-certified class of other participants in the Plan and on behalf of the Plan itself pursuant to the civil enforcement provision of ERISA, see 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(2), arguing that Defendants offered a range of mutual investments, including Putnam’s mutual funds, without regard to whether such funds were prudent investment options and that Defendants treated Plan participants worse than other investors in Putnam mutual funds. The district court ruled in favor of Defendants. The First Circuit (1) affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ prohibited transaction claim under 1106(a)(1)(C), breach of loyalty claim, and disgorgement claim; (2) vacated the court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ prohibited transaction claim under 1106(b)(3) and the finding that Plaintiffs failed as a matter of law to show loss; and (3) remanded for further proceedings. View "Brotherston v. Putnam Investments, LLC" on Justia Law
3M v. National Union Fire Insurance
3M filed an insurance claim to recover losses incurred on a number of investments due to fraud perpetrated by its own investment advisors. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Insurers, holding that the ownership requirement of Endorsement 8 applies to the Employee Dishonesty provision. Therefore, 3M does not own the stolen earnings and cannot seek coverage for the earnings under the Policy. Until the earnings were distributed to the partners, the stolen earnings were property of WG Trading, not 3M. The court explained that it is fundamental that property acquired with partnership funds is partnership property, and individual partners do not own partnership assets until the winding up of the partnership. Finally, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., does not alter general commercial property rights, but merely defines the nature and scope of the fiduciary duties owed to plan participants. View "3M v. National Union Fire Insurance" on Justia Law
Whitley v. BP, P.L.C.
After the BP Stock Fund lost significant value, the affected investors filed suit alleging that the plan fiduciaries breached their duties of prudence and loyalty by allowing the Plans to acquire and hold overvalued BP stock; breached their duty to provide adequate investment information to plan participants; and breached their duty to monitor those responsible for managing the BP Stock Fund. The district court held that the stockholders had failed to overcome the Moench v. Robertson presumption and dismissed their claims. The stockholders appealed, and while their appeal was pending in this court, the Supreme Court issued Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, holding that there was no such “presumption of prudence” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. On remand, the district court held that the stockholders had plausibly alleged that defendants had inside information; and the stockholders had plausibly alleged two alternative actions that defendants could have taken that met the Fifth Third standard: freezing, limiting, or restricting company stock purchases; and disclosing unfavorable information to the public. The district court granted the motion to amend with respect to pleading these alternative actions. It then certified defendants’ motion for interlocutory appeal. The court concluded, however, that the district court here erred when it altered the language of Fifth Third to reach its holding. Under the Supreme Court’s formulation, the plaintiff bears the significant burden of proposing an alternative course of action so clearly beneficial that a prudent fiduciary could not conclude that it would be more likely to harm the fund than to help it. In this case, the stockholders have failed to do so. Because the stockholders' amended complaint is insufficient and the district court erred in granting their motion to amend, the court reversed and remanded. View "Whitley v. BP, P.L.C." on Justia Law
Bd. of Trs. of the Auto. Mechs’ Local v. Full Circle Group, Inc.
HMC was a shipping and shipyard services company, whose president was Hannah. HMC had a collective bargaining agreement with the mechanics union that required it to make contributions to the union’s pension fund to finance pensions for HMC’s employees. Hannah’s son, Mark, formed FCG, which bought the assets of HMC. No significant liabilities of HMC were explicitly transferred to FCG, which tried to negotiate its own collective bargaining agreement with the union. When HMC employees voted to decertify the union in 2009. the pension fund assessed withdrawal liability under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, 29 U.S.C. 1381. HMC had become insolvent, so the fund sought to impose HMC’s liability to the fund on FCG as HMC’s successor. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of FCG. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, stating that lack of evidence that Mark knew about the pension fund and the possibility of withdrawal liability cannot excuse that liability. The court stated that fraudulent intent, while a factor in deciding whether there is alter ego liability, is not necessarily an essential factor, so summary judgment on a theory of successor liability was premature. View "Bd. of Trs. of the Auto. Mechs' Local v. Full Circle Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Nutt v. Osceola Therapy & Living Cntr., Inc.
Kevin and Lisa Nutt worked at Osceola Nursing Home. Funds were withheld from their paychecks as “pre-tax insurance.” After Kevin was injured, they learned that Osceola had not paid premiums. Their policy had lapsed; the Nutts owed $233,000 for medical services. The insurer told Lisa that it could reinstate the policy and pay the bills if Osceola made the delinquent premium payments. Osceola did not do so. Osceola then entered into a contract with Cooper, who specialized in turning around financially troubled nursing homes. Cooper’s company, Berryville, ultimately took title to the property. Before the closing, Cooper could assume management under a temporary lease. Cooper assigned this lease to OTLC, created for the project and owned by Hargis. Though OTLC was independent, Hargis regularly worked with Cooper in nursing-home ventures. OTLC operated the facility for Cooper and Berryville for three years. Nutt told Hargis about the outstanding bills. Days later, OTLC fired both Lisa and Kevin. They sued. The court entered default judgment against Osceola under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001; found that they could not provide adequate relief; and, on a theory of successor liability, held OTLC liable. The Eighth Circuit reversed, stating that if successor liability required only subsequent operation, it would discourage the free transfer of assets to their most valuable uses. OTLC was not a party to the unlawful practices of Osceola and operated without significant connection to the culpable parties. View "Nutt v. Osceola Therapy & Living Cntr., Inc." on Justia Law
Tidyman s et al. v. Davis et al.
In 2010, plaintiffs and Tidyman’s Management Services Inc. (TMSI) filed a complaint against Michael A. Davis and John Maxwell in their capacities as officers and directors of TMSI and/or its subsidiary, Tidyman’s LLC, alleging breach of corporate duties arising out of a merger between TMSI and SuperValu, which created Tidyman’s LLC. Plaintiffs requested punitive damages and attorney fees. The merger at issue occurred despite advice from a financial advisor TMSI had retained that the company should be sold, and the complaint alleged that the directors and officers had misrepresented the merit of the transaction. TMSI is a Washington corporation with its principal place of business in Montana, and was a member of Tidyman’s LLC; employee shareholders owned TMSI. A corporate liability insurance policy was in place that purported to insure Davis and Maxwell against liability incurred in their positions as officers and directors of Tidyman’s LLC. The Policy was to provide a legal defense for Davis and Maxwell throughout the federal ERISA litigation. The issues this case presented to the Montana Supreme Court were: (1) whether the District Court was correct in concluding Montana law, rather than Washington law, applied in this case; (2) whether the District Court erred in concluding that the corporate liability insurer breached its duty to defend without analyzing coverage under the policy; (3) whether the District Court erred in denying the insurer a hearing and discovery on reasonableness and collusion related to the stipulated settlements; and (4) whether the District Court erred by awarding pre-judgment interest, or in its determination of when the interest began accruing. The Montana Court concluded that genuine issues of material fact regarding reasonableness precluded summary judgment on the amount of the stipulated settlements. Accordingly,the Court reversed judgment on the stipulated settlements and remanded this case for further proceedings. The Court affirmed on all other issues. View "Tidyman s et al. v. Davis et al." on Justia Law