Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The case revolves around Dycom Industries, Inc. ("Dycom") and its predecessor, Midtown Express, LLC ("Midtown"), a cable contractor that installed, serviced, and disconnected telecommunications cables for Time Warner Cable Company customers in New York City and Bergen County, New Jersey. Midtown had collective bargaining agreements with Local Union No. 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which required contributions to the Pension, Hospitalization & Benefit Plan of the Electrical Industry (the "Fund"), a multiemployer pension plan under ERISA. In 2016, Midtown ceased operations and contributions to the Fund, leading the Fund to assess withdrawal liability against Midtown and its successor, Dycom, under ERISA.Midtown demanded arbitration, arguing that its employees were performing work in the building and construction industry, and thus it was exempt from withdrawal liability under ERISA. The arbitrator determined that Midtown did not qualify for the exemption, concluding that Midtown's employees did not perform work in the building and construction industry. Dycom then filed a lawsuit to vacate the arbitrator's award, and the Fund filed a cross-motion to confirm the award. The district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, denied Dycom's motion to vacate the award, and granted the Fund's cross-motion to confirm the award.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The court concluded that the cable installation services at issue did not involve work in the "building and construction industry" under ERISA, and thus Dycom was not exempt from withdrawal liability. The court found that the arbitrator correctly determined that the work performed by Midtown was not work within the building and construction industry under ERISA, and thus the exemption did not apply. View "Dycom Indus., Inc. v. Pension, Hosp'n & Benefit Plan of the Elec. Indus." on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Ryan S., filed a class action lawsuit against UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries (collectively, “UnitedHealthcare”) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). He alleged that UnitedHealthcare applies a more stringent review process to benefits claims for outpatient, out-of-network mental health and substance use disorder (“MH/SUD”) treatment than to otherwise comparable medical/surgical treatment. Ryan S. asserted that by doing so, UnitedHealthcare violated the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (“Parity Act”), breached its fiduciary duty, and violated the terms of his plan.The district court granted UnitedHealthcare’s motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) based primarily on its conclusions that Ryan S. failed to allege that his claims had been “categorically” denied and insufficiently identified analogous medical/surgical claims that he had personally submitted and UnitedHealthcare had processed more favorably.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part the district court’s judgment. The panel concluded that Ryan S. adequately stated a claim for a violation of the Parity Act. The panel explained that an ERISA plan can violate the Parity Act in different ways, including by applying, as Ryan S. alleged here, a more stringent internal process to MH/SUD claims than to medical/surgical claims. The panel also concluded that Ryan S. alleged a breach of fiduciary duty. However, as Ryan S. failed to identify any specific plan terms that the alleged practices would violate, the panel affirmed the dismissal of his claims based on a violation of the terms of his plan. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ryan S. v. UnitedHealth Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard an appeal from Bulk Transport Corp. against Teamsters Union No. 142 Pension Fund and its Trustees. The dispute originated from two collective-bargaining agreements between Bulk Transport and Teamsters Local 142, active from 2003 to 2006. The Union insisted that Bulk Transport apply one such agreement, the Steel Mill Addendum, to non-steel mill work (LISCO work), which Bulk Transport initially did, subsequently making pension contributions on behalf of the LISCO workers. However, when Bulk Transport lost the LISCO contract, they ceased these contributions, leading to the Pension Fund assessing a withdrawal liability of about $2 million under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA).After arbitration, Bulk Transport paid but demanded a review of the decision. The district court agreed with the arbitrator's ruling that Bulk Transport had adopted the Addendum by conduct, and thus the Pension Fund was entitled to the withdrawal liability. The district court also denied Bulk Transport's request for a refund.The Seventh Circuit, however, reversed the district court's decision. It held that the written agreement, not the practice or conduct, should dictate the terms of pension contributions to multi-employer plans. The written agreement in this case did not cover the LISCO work, and the court rejected the argument that Bulk Transport's conduct altered the substantive terms of the agreement. The court held that the writings were conclusive and that employers and unions could not opt-out of the requirements orally or through their course of conduct. The court affirmed the district court's denial of attorney's fees for the Pension Fund and remanded the case with instructions to order the Pension Fund to repay the withdrawal liability it collected from Bulk Transport. View "Bulk Transport, Corp. v. Teamsters Union Local 142" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Plaintiff, Barbara M. Parmenter, had subscribed to a long-term care insurance policy offered by her employer, Tufts University, and underwritten by The Prudential Insurance Company of America. The policy was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. After Prudential twice increased Parmenter's premium rate payments for her policy, she sued Tufts and Prudential, alleging each breached their respective fiduciary duties owed to her when Prudential increased those rates. The defendants responded with motions to dismiss for failure to state a plausible claim. The district court granted each of their motions and Parmenter appealed.The United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit found that the language in the policy stating that premium increases would be "subject to the approval of the Massachusetts Commissioner of Insurance" was ambiguous, and could not be definitively interpreted based solely on the pleadings and contract documents currently available. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's decision to dismiss the case against Prudential and remanded it for further proceedings.However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the case against Tufts, as Parmenter's allegations that Tufts failed to prevent the premium rate increases or monitor Prudential did not fall into one of the categories of co-fiduciary liability set forth in section 1105(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. View "Parmenter v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America" on Justia Law

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This case involved the interpretation of two provisions of the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (“MPPAA”), part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). The appellants, M&K Employee Solutions, LLC and Ohio Magnetics, Inc., were employers that had withdrawn from the IAM National Pension Fund, a multiemployer pension plan (“MPP”). The issues before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit were: (1) whether the Fund’s actuary could set actuarial assumptions for calculating the employers' withdrawal liability after the measurement date based on information available as of the measurement date; and (2) for M&K, whether it was entitled to the "free-look" exception which allows an employer to withdraw from a plan within a specified period after joining without incurring withdrawal liability.On the first issue, the court affirmed the district court's rulings that the actuary could set actuarial assumptions after the measurement date, as long as the assumptions were based on the information available as of that date. The court held that this interpretation aligned with the best estimate of the plan’s anticipated experience as of the measurement date and was consistent with the policy of the MPPAA to protect multiemployer pension plans and their beneficiaries.On the second issue, the court held that M&K was entitled to the free-look exception. The court found that M&K had partially withdrawn from the Fund during the 2017 plan year, had an obligation of fewer than five years at the time of its partial withdrawal, and therefore met the requirements of the free-look exception. View "Trustees of the IAM National Pension Fund v. Ohio Magnetics, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an ERISA action brought by South Coast Specialty Surgery Center, Inc. against Blue Cross of California, d/b/a Anthem Blue Cross.South Coast, a healthcare provider, sought reimbursement from Blue Cross for the costs of medical services provided to its patients. South Coast argued that although it was not a plan participant or a beneficiary under ERISA, it had the right to enforce ERISA's protections directly because its patients had assigned it the right to sue for the non-payment of plan benefits via an "Assignment of Benefits" form. The district court disagreed and dismissed South Coast's suit, concluding that the form only conveyed the right to receive direct payment from Anthem, and not the right to sue for non-payment of plan benefits.The Ninth Circuit held that a healthcare provider can enforce ERISA's protections if it has received a valid assignment of rights. The court determined that South Coast's patients had effectuated a valid assignment through the "Assignment of Benefits" form. Therefore, South Coast had the right to seek payment of benefits and to sue for non-payment. The court reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "SOUTH COAST SPECIALTY SURGERY CENTER, INC. V. BLUE CROSS OF CALIFORNIA" on Justia Law

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A married couple who owned a small dental practice, D.L. Markham DDS, MSD, Inc., established an employee pension benefit plan for their business. They hired Variable Annuity Life Insurance Company (VALIC) to maintain the plan. Dissatisfied with VALIC's services, they decided to terminate their contract and were informed by VALIC that they would be charged a 5% surrender fee on all of the plan’s assets. The couple sued, alleging VALIC violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) by breaching its fiduciary duties and engaging in a prohibited transaction. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of their claims. The court held that VALIC did not act as a fiduciary when it collected the surrender fee, as it simply adhered to the contract by collecting the previously agreed-upon compensation. The court also found that VALIC was not a "party in interest" when it entered the contract, as it had not yet begun providing services to the plan. Finally, the court held that VALIC's collection of the surrender fee did not constitute a separate transaction under ERISA, as it was a payment in accordance with an existing agreement. The court also affirmed the district court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ request to amend their complaint due to undue delay and insufficient detail of their new allegations. View "Markham v. Variable Annuity Life" on Justia Law

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In a case involving the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), a plan participant, Ian C., sought coverage for his son, A.C., to receive treatment at Catalyst Residential Treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues. UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company (United), the claims fiduciary for the plan, initially covered the treatment but subsequently denied coverage. Ian C. appealed this denial internally, a process in which United upheld its original decision. Ian C. then took his case to federal district court, alleging that United's denial violated his right to a "full and fair review" of his claim under ERISA. The district court ruled in favor of United.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the court held that United's denial of benefits was arbitrary and capricious, violating ERISA regulations guaranteeing a "full and fair review" of claims. In particular, the court found that United had failed to consider A.C.'s substance abuse as an independent ground for coverage in their decision to deny benefits, in violation of their fiduciary duties under ERISA. The court therefore reversed the district court's decision. View "C., et al. v. United Healthcare Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff class participates in “403(b)” retirement plans administered by Cornell University (“Cornell”). Plaintiffs brought this suit against Cornell and its appointed fiduciaries alleging a number of breaches of their fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). Plaintiffs appealed from entry of judgment in Defendants’ favor on all but one claim, which was settled by the parties. On appeal, Plaintiffs challenged: (1) the dismissal of their claim that Cornell entered into a “prohibited transaction” by paying the plans’ recordkeepers unreasonable compensation, (2) the “parsing” of a single count alleging a breach of fiduciary duty into separate sub-claims at the motion to dismiss stage, (3) the award of summary judgment against Plaintiffs for failure to show loss on their claim that Defendants breached their duty of prudence by failing to monitor and control recordkeeping costs, and (4) the award of summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiffs’ claims that Cornell breached its duty of prudence by failing to remove underperforming investment options and by offering higher-cost retail share classes of mutual funds, rather than lower-cost institutional shares.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed Plaintiffs’ prohibited transactions claim and certain duty-of-prudence allegations for failure to state a claim and did not err in granting partial summary judgment to Defendants on the remaining duty-of-prudence claims. In so doing, the court held as a matter of first impression that to state a claim for a prohibited transaction pursuant to 29 U.S.C. Section 1106(a)(1)(C), it is not enough to allege that a fiduciary caused the plan to compensate a service provider for its services. View "Cunningham v. Cornell University" on Justia Law

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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