Justia ERISA Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Cloud v. NFL Player Retirement Plan
This ERISA case concerns the National Football League’s retirement plan, which provides disability pay to hobbled NFL veterans whose playing days are over but who are still living with debilitating, often degenerative injuries to brains and bodies, including neurotrauma. The claimant, former NFL running back Michael Cloud, suffered multiple concussions during his eight-year career, leaving him physically, neurologically, and psychologically debilitated. After the Social Security Administration found him entitled to disability benefits, Cloud went back to the NFL Plan and sought reclassification to a higher tier of benefits. Cloud was awarded a higher tier but not the highest tier. Cloud again filed a claim to be reclassified at the most generous level of disability pay. The NFL Plan denied reclassification on several grounds. Cloud sued the NFL Plan. The district court ordered a near doubling of Cloud’s annual disability benefits. The district court awarded top-level benefits under the Plan instead of remanding for another round at the administrative. The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court wrote that it is compelled to hold that the district court erred in awarding top-level benefits to Cloud. Although the NFL Plan’s review board may well have denied Cloud a full and fair review, and although Cloud is probably entitled to the highest level of disability pay, he is not entitled to reclassification to that top tier because he cannot show changed circumstances between his 2014 claim for reclassification and his 2016 claim for reclassification—which was denied and which he did not appeal. View "Cloud v. NFL Player Retirement Plan" on Justia Law
D.K., et al. v. United Behavioral Health, et al.
Middle schooler A.K. struggled with suicidal ideation for many years and attempted suicide numerous times, resulting in frequent emergency room visits and in-patient hospitalizations. A.K.’s physicians strongly recommended she enroll in a residential treatment facility to build the skills necessary to stabilize. Despite these recommendations and extensive evidence in the medical record, United Behavioral Health (“United”) denied coverage for A.K.’s stay at a residential treatment facility beyond an initial three month period. Her parents appealed United’s denial numerous times, requesting further clarification, and providing extensive medical evidence, yet United only replied with conclusory statements that did not address the evidence provided. As a result, A.K.’s parents brought this lawsuit contending United violated its fiduciary duties by failing to provide a “full and fair review” of their claim for medical benefits. Both sides moved for summary judgment, and the district court ruled against United. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether United arbitrarily and capriciously denied A.K. medical benefits and whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding A.K. benefits rather than remanding to United for further review. The Court ultimately concluded United did act arbitrarily and capriciously in not adequately engaging with the opinions of A.K.’s physicians and in not providing its reasoning for denials to A.K.’s parents. The Court also concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion by awarding A.K. benefits outright. View "D.K., et al. v. United Behavioral Health, et al." on Justia Law
Walsh v. Alight Solutions, LLC
Alight provides recordkeeping services for employee healthcare and retirement benefit plans, some of which are governed by ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461 The Department of Labor investigated Alight, following a discovery that Alight processed unauthorized distributions of plan benefits due to cybersecurity breaches, and sent Alight an administrative subpoena duces tecum, seeking documents in response to 32 inquiries, including broad demands, such as “[a]ll documents and communications relating to services offered to ERISA plan clients.” Alight produced some documents but objected to several inquiries, citing its duty to keep certain information confidential. The Department petitioned for enforcement of the subpoena. Alight produced additional materials but redacted most of the documents to remove client identifying information, preventing the Department from discerning potential ERISA violations. Alight asked the court to quash or limit the subpoena and permit redactions. Alight’s legal consultant projected full compliance would require “thousands of hours of work.” The Department clarified or narrowed its requests.The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order granting the Department’s petition to enforce the subpoena with some modifications. The court rejected Alight’s arguments that the subpoena is unenforceable because the Department lacks authority to investigate the company because it is not a fiduciary under ERISA, or cybersecurity incidents generally; that the subpoena’s demands are too indefinite and unduly burdensome, and that the district court abused its discretion by denying Alight’s request for a protective order to limit production of certain sensitive information. View "Walsh v. Alight Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law
Operating Engineers’ Local 324 Fringe Benefits Funds v. Rieth-Riley Construction Co.
The Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing this ERISA action for lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that no contract bound the parties, holding that the presence of a live contract goes to the merits of this action, not the district court's jurisdiction to hear it.A group of employee benefits funds sued Defendant in a federal district court alleging breach of contract for late contributions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Defendant responded that no contract existed and that the presence of a live contract was a jurisdictional prerequisite to Plaintiffs' ERISA suit, meaning that the claim should have been brought under the National Labor Relations Act and that the National Labor Relations Board had exclusive jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' grievances. The district court dismissed the suit without prejudice, holding that it lacked jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the presence of a live contract is not an essential jurisdictional fact in an action brought under section 515 of ERISA. Rather, the presence of a live contract goes to the merits of Plaintiffs' ERISA claim. View "Operating Engineers' Local 324 Fringe Benefits Funds v. Rieth-Riley Construction Co." on Justia Law
Doe v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc.
Plaintiffs, individuals living with HIV/AIDS who have employer-sponsored health plans, and who rely on those plans to obtain prescription drugs, filed suit alleging that CVS's program violates the anti-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act (Unruh Act); denies them benefits to which they are entitled under the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA); and violates California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL). The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss.The Ninth Circuit held that Section 1557 of the ACA does not create a healthcare-specific anti-discrimination standard that allowed plaintiffs to choose standards from a menu provided by other anti-discrimination statutes. Because plaintiffs claim discrimination on the basis of their disability, to state a claim for a Section 1557 violation, they must allege facts adequate to state a claim under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Applying the section 504 framework, the panel concluded that plaintiffs adequately alleged that they were denied meaningful access to their prescription drug benefit under their employer-sponsored health plans because the program prevents them from receiving effective treatment for HIV/AIDS. Therefore, plaintiffs have stated a claim for disability discrimination under the ACA.However, plaintiffs have failed to establish a claim of disability discrimination under the ADA, because they have not plausibly alleged that their benefit plan is a place of public accommodation. Finally, the panel upheld the district court's denial of plaintiffs' claims under ERISA and their cause of action under California's Unfair Competition Law. The panel affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Doe v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law
Black v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
Title IV of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) creates an insurance program to protect employees’ pension benefits. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)—a wholly-owned corporation of the U.S. government—is charged with administering the pension-insurance program. PBGC terminated the “Salaried Plan,” a defined-benefit plan sponsored by Delphi by an agreement between PBGC and Delphi pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 1342(c). Delphi had filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition and had stopped making contributions to the plan. The district court rejected challenges by retirees affected by the termination.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Subsection 1342(c) permits termination of distressed pension plans by agreement between PBGC and the plan administrator without court adjudication. Rejecting a due process argument, the court stated that the retirees have not demonstrated that they have a property interest in the full amount of their vested, but unfunded, pension benefits. PBGC’s decision to terminate the Salaried Plan was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Black v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp." on Justia Law
Coffey v. New Hampshire Judicial Retirement Plan
The First Circuit held that the New Hampshire Judicial Retirement Plan (Plan) does not allow a former judge who resigned with sufficient years of creditable service, but before reaching the minimum retirement age, to receive a Service Retirement Allowance (SRA) upon later reaching the retirement age.Plaintiff was fifty-four years old when she resigned from her position as a superior court justice for the state of New Hampshire. Plaintiff served in that position for sixteen-and-a-half years. At the age of sixty-one, Plaintiff applied for an SRA. The Board of Trustees of the Board of Trustees (Board) of the Plan denied her application. Plaintiff filed suit against the Plan seeking a declaratory judgment that she was eligible for an SRA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Plan as to Plaintiff's claim for violation of N.H. Rev. Stat. 100-C, 5, concluding that the plain language of the statute requires a judge to be in active service when she elects to retire and claim a service retirement allowance. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Plaintiff was not eligible to receive an SRA on her application. View "Coffey v. New Hampshire Judicial Retirement Plan" on Justia Law
Doe v. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Inc.
The First Circuit reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings the district court’s denial of Plaintiff’s challenge of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s (HPHC) denial of coverage for the cost of Plaintiff’s uncovered care at a mental health residential treatment facility, holding that the administrative record upon which the district court based its findings should have been supplemented.HPHC, Plaintiff’s insurer, deemed a portion of the time Plaintiff spent at the residential facility not medically necessary under the health care benefits plan established by the employer of Plaintiff’s parent and therefore denied coverage for that portion of the treatment. Plaintiff brought suit under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001-1461. The district court affirmed on de novo review, concluding that continued residential treatment was not medically necessary for Plaintiff. The First Circuit vacated the district court’s order granting summary judgment for HPHC and remanded for further proceedings, holding (1) when a district court examines the denial of ERISA benefits de novo, the court’s factual findings are reviewed only for clear error; and (2) such a deferential review cannot properly be conducted in this case on the administrative record. View "Doe v. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Inc." on Justia Law
Duncan v. Muzyn
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) funds a retirement plan, administered by “the Board, and provides defined benefits to participants that includes a cost-of-living adjustment. In 2009, the Plan found that its liabilities exceeded its assets and it needed to make some changes to ensure its long-term stability. The Board temporarily lowered cost-of-living adjustments and increased the age at which certain participants would become eligible for cost-of-living adjustments. Plaintiffs, a class of participants, maintain that the Board failed to give proper notice to the TVA and Plan members before making the cuts and violated the Plan’s rules by paying their cost-of-living adjustments for certain years out of the wrong account. The district court rejected both claims on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that the Board gave the required 30 days’ notice to the TVA and Plan members, after which the TVA may “veto any such proposed amendment” within the 30-day period, “in which event it shall not become effective.” The court vacated and remanded the accounting claim with instructions to dismiss it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Plaintiffs have suffered no injury-in-fact, and have no standing. View "Duncan v. Muzyn" on Justia Law
Chamber of Commerce of the USA v. United States Department of Labor
Business groups challenged the “Fiduciary Rule” promulgated by the Department of Labor (DOL) in April 2016. The Rule is a package of seven different rules that broadly reinterpret the term “investment advice fiduciary” and redefine exemptions to provisions concerning fiduciaries that appear in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, and the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. 4975. The business groups alleged the Rule’s inconsistency with the governing statutes; DOL’s overreaching to regulate services and providers beyond its authority; DOL’s imposition of legally unauthorized contract terms to enforce the new regulations; First Amendment violations; and the Rule’s arbitrary and capricious treatment of variable and fixed indexed annuities. The Fifth CIrcuit vacated the district court’s rejection of all of those challenges. DOL’s interpretation of “investment advice fiduciary” relies too narrowly on a purely semantic construction of one isolated statutory provision and wrongly presupposes that the statutory provision is inherently ambiguous. Congress intended to incorporate the well-settled meaning’” of “fiduciary.” In addition, the Fiduciary Rule renders the second prong of ERISA’s fiduciary status definition in tension with its companion subsections. DOL therefore lacked statutory authority to promulgate the Rule with its overreaching definition of “investment advice fiduciary.” View "Chamber of Commerce of the USA v. United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law