Justia ERISA Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Hogan v. Jacobson
In 2011, Hogan sued the Life Insurance Company of North America for violating the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, by denying her benefits claim under a disability insurance policy. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the grant of judgment against her. While appeal was pending, Hogan filed a state court suit against two nurses who worked for the Life Insurance Company and who had provided opinions regarding Hogan’s eligibility for benefits after reviewing her claim. Hogan carefully pleaded her claims in the second suit to avoid reference to the Life Insurance Company or ERISA, alleging only that the nurses committed negligence per se by giving medical advice without being licensed under Kentucky’s medical-licensure laws. The defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of ERISA’s complete-preemptive effect. The district court denied Hogan’s attempts to remand the case to state court and later granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of remand and the dismissal. Hogan’s artfully pleaded state-law claims are simply claims for the wrongful denial of benefits under an ERISA plan that arise solely from the relationship created by that plan. The court denied defendants’ motion for sanctions on appeal because Hogan’s arguments were not frivolous. View "Hogan v. Jacobson" on Justia Law
Lebahn v. Owens
Trent Lebahn sued Eloise Owens, a consultant for Lebahn’s employee pension plan, for negligently misrepresenting the amount of his monthly retirement benefits. The district court dismissed Lebahn’s negligent-misrepresentation claim, concluding it was preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Lebahn then filed an untimely Rule 59 motion, arguing preemption did not apply because Owens was not a fiduciary of the pension plan. The district court construed the untimely motion as one under Rule 60(b) and denied relief, reasoning that Lebahn’s argument regarding Owens’s fiduciary status had been raised too late. Lebahn appealed. The Tenth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction to consider Lebahn’s challenge to the district court’s underlying judgment, so its review was limited to the district court’s denial of relief under Rule 60(b). Upon review, the Court found Lebahn did not demonstrate the district court abused its discretion in denying relief under Rule 60(b), and therefore the district court’s judgment was affirmed. View "Lebahn v. Owens" on Justia Law
Montanile v. Bd. of Trs. of Nat’l Elevator Indus. Health Benefit Plan
Employee benefits plans regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) often contain subrogation clauses requiring participants to reimburse the plan for medical expenses if they later recover money from a third party. Montanile was seriously injured by a drunk driver. His ERISA plan paid more than $120,000 for his medical expenses. Montanile sued the drunk driver, obtaining a $500,000 settlement. The plan administrator sought reimbursement from the settlement. Montanile’s attorney refused and indicated that the funds would be transferred from a trust account to Montanile unless the administrator objected. The administrator did not respond. Montanile received the settlement. Six months later, the administrator sued under ERISA 502(a)(3), which authorizes plan fiduciaries to file suit “to obtain . . . appropriate equitable relief . . . to enforce . . . the plan.” 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3). The district court rejected Montanile’s arguments, The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that even if Montanile had completely dissipated the fund, the plan was entitled to reimbursement from Montanile’s general assets. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for determination of whether Montanile had dissipated the settlement. When an ERISA-plan participant wholly dissipates a third-party settlement on nontraceable items, the plan fiduciary may not bring suit under section 502(a)(3) to attach the participant’s separate assets. Historical equity practice does not support enforcement of an equitable lien against general assets. View "Montanile v. Bd. of Trs. of Nat'l Elevator Indus. Health Benefit Plan" on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Guardianship of O. D.
Minor O.D. filed a petition for approval of a settlement her parents had negotiated with car insurance companies for injuries she had suffered in a car accident. On the day of the hearing, O.D.'s health insurance coverage provider Ashley Healthcare Plan, which had a subrogation lien against the proceeds of O.D.'s claim, removed the case to federal court, arguing that Mississippi Code Section 93-13-59 (which requires chancery court approval of settlement claims) was preempted by the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). The federal district court held that ERISA did not preempt the state law and remanded the case to the chancery court without awarding attorney's fees to O.D. On motion from O.D.'s parents, the Pontotoc County Chancery Court awarded O.D. attorney's fees, holding that Ashley Healthcare Plan's removal to federal court was contrary to clearly established law and that it was done for the purpose of delaying litigation. Ashley Healthcare Plan appealed the grant of attorney fees. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. Although O.D. could have sought recovery of attorney's fees under Rule 54 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, frivolous removals to federal court were also subject to the Mississippi Litigation Accountability Act. Furthermore, Ashley Healthcare Plan's removal to federal court was contrary to two decades of case law which uniformly held that Mississippi's law requiring chancery court approval of minors' settlements was not preempted by ERISA and that Ashley Healthcare Plan was seeking a remedy in federal court that was unavailable to it under the ERISA Civil Enforcement Clause. View "In the Matter of the Guardianship of O. D." on Justia Law
Rodrigues v. United Public Workers, AFSCME Local 646
Petitioner, the former State director of United Public Workers, AFSCME Local 646, FL-CIO (UPW) and a former administrator of UPW’s Mutual Aid Fund trust (MAF), was held liable by a federal district court for negligently making loans under ERISA and thus breaching his fiduciary duties to the MAF. The court entered judgment against Petitioner in the amount of $850,000. Petitioner filed a complaint in the circuit court requesting that UPW indemnify him for the $850,000 on the grounds that his liability to the MAF arose from actions he took solely in his capacity as agent for UPW and/or that UPW ratified his actions. The circuit court granted summary judgment for UPW. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed, concluding that because Petitioner was responsible for his own conduct, he was not entitled to be indemnified for his negligent acts as a matter of law. Petitioner requested certiorari, claiming that the ICA erred in concluding that his negligence claim defeated his indemnification claim as a matter of law. The Supreme Court denied certiorari without reaching this issue, holding that ERISA preemption, not Petitioner’s negligence, defeated Petitioner’s state indemnity claims against UPW as a matter of law. View "Rodrigues v. United Public Workers, AFSCME Local 646" on Justia Law
Graciano v. Mercury General Corp.
Plaintiff Sonia Graciano was injured after she was hit by a car driven by Saul Ayala. Ayala was insured by defendant California Automobile Insurance Company (CAIC). Three weeks after Graciano's attorney first contacted CAIC regarding the accident, Graciano misidentified both the driver and the applicable insurance policy. CAIC investigated the accident, identified the applicable policy and the correct driver, and offered to settle Graciano's claim with a "full policy limits offer." Graciano did not accept CAIC's full policy limits offer and, in this suit, alleged CAIC and its parent and affiliated companies acted in bad faith, based on an alleged "wrongful failure to settle." Graciano argued CAIC could have and should have earlier discovered the facts, and should have made the full policy limits offer more quickly. The jury found in favor of Graciano and this appeal followed. CAIC argued that, as a matter of law, there was no evidence to support the verdict that CAIC acted in bad faith by unreasonably failing to settle Graciano's claim against Saul. The Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed the judgment. View "Graciano v. Mercury General Corp." on Justia Law
Rice, et al. v. Reliastar Life Ins. Co.
Plaintiffs filed suit against Deputy Arnold and Sheriff Graves, alleging violations of federal and state law after Arnold fatally shot their father while responding to a 911 call that the father was threatening to commit suicide. Plaintiffs also filed suit against ReliaStar to recover $179,000 they allege ReliaStar owes them under the father's accidental death policy. The district court granted Arnold and Grave's motions for summary judgment and granted ReliaStar's motion for summary judgment. The court held that Arnold did not violate the father's Fourth Amendment rights when he entered the father's home without a warrant because he had an objectively reasonable belief that the father would imminently seriously injure himself, and the district court did not err in granting Arnold's motion for summary judgment on the warrantless entry claim because Arnold is entitled to qualified immunity; Arnold is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate the father's constitutional right to be free from excessive force; the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for Arnold on the assault and battery claims, the false imprisonment claims, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim; the district court correctly granted Graves's motion for summary judgment; and the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for ReliaStar where the record was replete with factual evidence that ReliaStar relied on in determining that the father's death was not accidental, demonstrating that ReliaStar could have reached its determination without resorting to the conflict of interest at issue. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Rice, et al. v. Reliastar Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law
DiGeronimo Aggregates, LLC v. Zemla
DiGeronimo and other employers contributed to the Teamsters Local Union No. 293 Pension Plan, which is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461. Defendants are trustees of the Plan and managed the Plan, including negotiating and ratifying contribution rates and overseeing the Plan’s investments and expenses. Defendants terminated the Plan in December 2009 because substantially all of the Plan’s contributing employers withdrew from paying contributions. Defendants assessed $1,755,733 in “withdrawal liability” to DiGeronimo, which represents its share of the $49,000,000 in unfunded, vested benefits that the contributing employers owed the Plan. DiGeronimo sued defendants under 29 U.S.C. 1451(a), alleging that defendants negligently managed the Plan’s assets, causing increased withdrawal liability. The district court dismissed holding, that there was no substantive basis for the negligence claim in any section of ERISA or under the federal common law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed: a contributing employer to a multiemployer pension plan has no cause of action against plan trustees for negligent management under the federal common law of ERISA pension plans. View "DiGeronimo Aggregates, LLC v. Zemla" on Justia Law
Cent St, SE & SW Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. First Agency, Inc.
Central States, an employee benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, provides health insurance for Teamsters and their families. Guarantee Trust provides sports injury insurance for student athletes. Each of 13 high school and college athletes, all children of Teamsters, holds general health insurance from Central and sports injury insurance from Guarantee. Each suffered an injury while playing sports (most often football) between 2006 and 2009, and sought coverage from both companies. Each time Guarantee refused to pay the athlete’s medical expenses, and each time Central paid the bill under protest. The district court entered a declaratory judgment under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3)(B), that, when coverage of student athletes overlap, Guarantee must pay, and ordered Guarantee to reimburse Central for the payouts to the 13 students. The Sixth Circuit, affirmed in part characterizing the case as a “you first” paradox, or ‘gastonette.” An ERISA plan may coordinate benefits with another policy, but may not redefine the coverage of another policy. Absent the Central plan, the Guarantee policy would cover the sports injuries at issue without question. An ERISA plan must keep doing what it would do in another plan’s absence. That amounts to coordinating benefits, not redefining coverage. View "Cent St, SE & SW Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. First Agency, Inc." on Justia Law
Cerentano v. UMWA Health & Retirement Funds
From 1978 to 2000, Cerentano worked as a coal miner. He was injured in 15 mining incidents and received six separate awards of permanent partial disability, but was able to return to work after each injury. In 2000 Cerentano was wrongfully discharged after a false positive drug test. Months later, he was diagnosed with depression due to his firing and treated for dysthymia and anxiety. Eventually, Cerentano found work as a real estate agent and a vehicle transporter. In 2005, Cerentano’s car was hit, causing more injuries. Cerentano was awarded Social Security disability benefits. He was denied disability pension benefits under the United Mine Workers Pension Trust Plan, based on the trustees’ conclusion that there was no causal link between his mine injuries and the award of Social Security benefits. Cerentano sued under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1332(a)(1)(b). The district court granted summary judgment to the plan. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The trustees should have examined all of the injuries, severe and non‐severe, that the ALJ relied on in finding Cerentano disabled and should have determined which of those injuries were caused by mine accidents and whether, the mine‐related injuries, in combination, comprised “a causal link.”View "Cerentano v. UMWA Health & Retirement Funds" on Justia Law