Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Cincinnati ordinances provide guidelines for selecting the “lowest and best bidder” on Department of Sewers projects to “ensure efficient use of taxpayer dollars, minimize waste, and promote worker safety and fair treatment of workers” and for bids for “Greater Cincinnati Water Works and the stormwater management utility division,” to employ skilled contractors, committed to the city’s “safety, quality, time, and budgetary concerns.” Allied alleged that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) preempted: a requirement that the bidder certify whether it contributes to a health care plan for employees working on the project as part of the employee’s regular compensation; a requirement that the bidder similarly certify whether it contributes to an employee pension or retirement program; and imposition of an apprenticeship standard. Allied asserts that the only apprenticeship program that meets that requirement is the Union’s apprenticeship program, which is not available to non-Union contractors. The ordinances also require the winning contractor to pay $.10 per hour per worker into a city-managed pre-apprenticeship training fund, not to be taken from fringe benefits. The district court granted Allied summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Where a state or municipality acts as a proprietor rather than a regulator, it is not subject to ERISA preemption. The city was a market participant here: the benefit-certification requirements and the apprenticeship requirements reflect its interests in the efficient procurement of goods and services. View "Allied Construction Industries v. City of Cincinnati" on Justia Law

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After Employee ended his employment with Employer he applied for and received state unemployment benefits from the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and supplemental unemployment benefits (SUB) through a plan offered by Employer. DEED determined that the SUB plan payments counted as “wages” under Minn. Stat. 268.035(29)(A) and determined that Employee had been overpaid state unemployment benefits. An unemployment law judge affirmed. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Employee was entitled to keep the state unemployment benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding the SUB plan payments Employee received were not “wages” for purposes of his eligibility for state unemployment benefits, and therefore, Employee was not overpaid state unemployment benefits. View "Engfer v. Gen. Dynamics Advanced Info. Sys., Inc." on Justia Law

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Nationwide, with 32,000 employees in 49 states, has an ERISA employee-benefits plan that provides short-term disability (STD), long-term disability (LTD), and “Your Time” benefits. An employee can receive Your Time benefits for personal reasons, such as vacation or illness. To receive STD benefits, an employee must be “STD Disabled,” which means “a substantial change in medical or physical condition due to a specific illness that prevents an Eligible Associate from working their current position.” Specific rules govern maternity leave. The first five days of paid maternity leave come out of an associate’s Your Time benefits. Thereafter, a new mother is considered STD Disabled and entitled to STD benefits for six weeks following a vaginal delivery, or eight weeks following a cesarean section. Wisconsin’s Family Medical Leave Act requires that employers allow six weeks of unpaid leave following “[t]he birth of an employee’s natural child[.]” The Act’s “substitution provision” requires employers to allow an employee to substitute “paid or unpaid leave of any other type provided by the employer” for the unpaid leave provided by the statute. A Wisconsin Nationwide employee had a baby. She received six weeks of STD benefits under Nationwide’s plan. She then requested an additional period of STD benefits pursuant to the substitution provision. The plan denied the request, finding that she was no longer short-term disabled under the plan. The Wisconsin Supreme Court had held that, ERISA did not preempt the Wisconsin Act. The district court held that, under the Supremacy Clause, the administrator was required to comply with ERISA rather than the Wisconsin Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.View "Sherfel v. Newson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lucrecia Carpio Holmes appealed a district court’s ruling that her claim for disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was barred due to her failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Holmes v. Colorado Coalition" on Justia Law