Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Securities Law
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Fifth Third maintains a defined-contribution retirement savings plan for its employees. Participants may direct their contributions into any of several investment options, including an “employee stock ownership plan” (ESOP), which invests primarily in Fifth Third stock. Former participants sued, alleging breach of the fiduciary duty of prudence imposed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(B) in that the defendants should have known—on the basis of both public information and inside information available to Fifth Third officers—that the stock was overpriced and risky. The price of Fifth Third stock fell, reducing plaintiffs’ retirement savings. The district court dismissed; the Sixth Circuit reversed. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. ESOP fiduciaries are not entitled to any special presumption of prudence, but are subject to the same duty that applies to ERISA fiduciaries in general, except that they need not diversify the fund’s assets. There is no requirement that plaintiffs allege that the employer was, for example, on the “brink of collapse.” Where a stock is publicly traded, allegations that a fiduciary should have recognized, on the basis of publicly available information, that the market was over- or under-valuing the stock are generally implausible and insufficient to state a claim. To state a claim, a complaint must plausibly allege an alternative action that could have been taken, that would have been legal, and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. ERISA’s duty of prudence never requires a fiduciary to break the law, so a fiduciary cannot be imprudent for failing to buy or sell in violation of insider trading laws. An allegation that fiduciaries failed to decide, based on negative inside information, to refrain from making additional stock purchases or failed to publicly disclose that information so that the stock would no longer be overvalued, requires courts to consider possible conflicts with complex insider trading and corporate disclosure laws. Courts confronted with such claims must also consider whether the complaint has plausibly alleged that a prudent fiduciary in the same position could not have concluded that stopping purchases or publicly disclosing negative information would do more harm than good to the fund. View "Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, former Lehman employees, filed suit alleging that defendants, members of the Benefits Committee, and the company's Directors, breached their duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. In regards to plaintiffs' claims that the Benefits Committee Defendants breached their duty of prudence in managing the company's employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), the court concluded that plaintiffs have not rebutted the Moench v. Robertson presumption because they failed to allege facts sufficient to show that the Benefits Committee Defendants knew or should have known that Lehman was in a "dire situation" based on information that was publicly available during the class period. In regards to plaintiffs' claims that the Benefits Committee Defendants breached their duty of disclosure, the publicly-known information available to defendants did not give rise to an independent duty to investigate Lehman's SEC filings prior to incorporating their content into a summary plan description issued to plan-participants. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' remaining claims. View "In Re: Lehman Bros. ERISA Litig." on Justia Law

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After accumulating a fortune in the technology business, Patel became a hedge fund manager. He formed a fund, and Sitara to serve as the fund’s investment adviser, and named himself managing director of Sitara. His acquaintances purchased interests in the fund. After initial success, Patel invested $6.8 million, nearly all of the fund’s assets, in Freddie Mac common stock in 2008, after the beginning of the subprime mortgage crisis. The fund incurred devastating losses. Owners of limited partnership interests sued Patel and Sitara, claiming federal and state securities fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation, and fraudulent inducement. Their second amended complaint asserted only failure to register securities in violation of federal law, failure to register as an investment advisor under Illinois law, and breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1109(a). Plaintiffs sought to file a third amended complaint, based upon purported misrepresentations discovered while deposing Patel: an offering memorandum statement that Patel “intends to contribute no less than one hundred thousand dollars” and Patel’s oral statement that he was investing some of the $18 million from the sale of a former business at the inception of the fund. Patel did not invest any proceeds from the sale of his company at the inception. The district court denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The new claims suffered from deficiencies that rendered the proposed amendment futile. View "Shailja Gandhi Revocable Trust v. Sitara Capital Mgmt., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action, claiming that fiduciaries for their retirement plans violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001, by continuing to offer employer stock as an investment option while the stock price dropped. The individual retirement account plan at issue allowed employees to choose among more than 20 investment funds with different risk profiles that had been selected by plan fiduciaries. ERISA imposes on the fiduciaries a duty to select only prudent investment options. One of the investment options in the Plan was the M&I Stock Fund, consisting of M&I stock, under an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. In 2008- 2009, M&I’s stock price dropped by approximately 54 percent. The district court applied a presumption of prudence, found that plaintiffs’ allegations could not overcome it, and dismissed without addressing class certification. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that plaintiffs’ theory would require the employer and plan fiduciaries to violate the plan’s governing documents and “seems to be based often on the untenable premise that employers and plan fiduciaries have a fiduciary duty either to outsmart the stock market, which is groundless, or to use insider information for the benefit of employees, which would violate federal securities laws.” View "White v. Marshall & Ilsley Corp." on Justia Law

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Saint Vincent's alleged that Morgan Stanley - the fiduciary manager of the fixed-income portfolio of Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers Retirement Plan - violated its fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. Saint Vincent's alleged that Morgan Stanley disproportionately invested the portfolio's assets in mortgaged-backed securities, including the purportedly riskier subcategory of "nonagency" mortgage-backed securities, despite warning signs that these investments were unsound. Although Saint Vincent's, as the fiduciary administrator of an ERISA-governed plan, was in a position to plead its claims with greater factual detail than was typically accessible to plaintiffs prior to discovery, and although it received two opportunities to amend its complaint, the Amended Complaint failed to plead sufficient, nonconclusory factual allegations to show that Morgan Stanley failed to meet its fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Amended Complaint. View "Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. Morgan Stanley Inv. Mgmt. Inc." on Justia Law

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Former Fifth Third employees participated in a defined contribution retirement plan with Fifth Third as trustee. Participants make voluntary contributions and direct the Plan to purchase investments for their individual accounts from preselected options. The options included Fifth Third Stock, two collective funds, or 17 mutual funds. Fifth Third makes matching contributions for eligible participants that are initially invested in the Fifth Third Stock Fund but may be moved later to other investment options. Significant Plan assets were invested in Fifth Third Stock. Plan fiduciaries incorporated by reference Fifth Third’s SEC filings into the Summary Plan Description. Plaintiffs allege that Fifth Third switched from being a conservative lender to a subprime lender, its loan portfolio became increasingly at-risk, and it either failed to disclose or provided misleading disclosures. The price of the stock declined 74 percent. The district court dismissed a complaint under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001, based on a presumption that the decision to remain invested in employer securities was reasonable. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the complaint plausibly alleged a claim of breach of fiduciary duty and causal connection regarding failure to divest the Plan of Fifth Third Stock and remove that stock as an investment option. View "Dudenhoefer v. Fifth Third Bancorp" on Justia Law

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Participants in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan brought suit under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. 1001, and the Investment Company Act of 1940, 15 U.S.C. 80a-1, claiming excessive fees on annuity insurance contracts offered to plan participants. The district court dismissed the ICA claims because only those maintaining an ownership interest in the funds could sue under the derivative suit provision and the participants are no longer investors in the funds in question. As to the ERISA claims, the court dismissed because participants failed to make a pre-suit demand upon the plan trustees to take appropriate action and failed to join the trustees as parties. The Third Circuit affirmed with regards to the ICA claims, but vacated on the ERISA counts, holding that the statute does not require pre-suit demand or joinder of trustees. View "Santomenno v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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GM offered separate defined-contribution 401(k) plans. Benefits were based on the amount of contributions and investment performance of an individual's separate account. The plans offered several investment options, including mutual funds, non-mutual fund investments, and the General Motors Common Stock Fund. Participants could change the allocation in any investment on any business day. The plans invested, by default, in the Pyramis Fund, not the GM Fund. In 2008, the fiduciary suspended purchases of GM and began selling the stock. Plaintiffs filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1109(a), alleging breach of fiduciary duty in allowing investment in GM after its financial trouble was the subject of reliable public information. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded that "a prudent fiduciary acting under similar circumstances would have made a different investment decision." The fiduciary cannot escape its duty simply by asserting that the plaintiffs caused the losses by choosing to invest in the GM Fund. Such a rule would improperly shift the duty of prudence to monitor the menu of investments to participants. The fact that a participant exercises control over assets does not automatically trigger section 404(c) safe harbor.View "Pfeil v. State Street Bank & Trust Co" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed from a decision granting defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaints for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Plaintiffs, participants in two retirement plans offered by defendants, brought suit alleging breach of fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. Plaintiff alleged that defendants acted imprudently by including employer stock as an investment option in the retirement plans and that defendants failed to provide adequate and truthful information to participants regarding the status of employer stock. The court held that the facts alleged by plaintiffs were, even if proven, insufficient to establish that defendants abused their discretion by continuing to offer plan participants the opportunity to invest in McGraw-Hill stock. The court also held that plaintiffs have not alleged facts sufficient to prove that defendants made any statements, while acting in a fiduciary capacity, that they knew to be false. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Gearren, et al. v. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, participants in retirement plans offered by defendants and covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., appealed from a judgment dismissing their ERISA class action complaint. Plan documents required that a stock fund consisting primarily of Citigroup common stock be offered among the plan's investment options. Plaintiffs argued that because Citigroup stock became an imprudent investment, defendants should have limited plan participants' ability to invest in it. The court held that plan fiduciaries' decision to continue offering participants the opportunity to invest in Citigroup stock should be reviewed for an abuse of discretion and the court found that they did not abuse their discretion here. The court also held that defendants did not have an affirmative duty to disclose to plan participants nonpublic information regarding the expected performance of Citigroup stock and that the complaint did not sufficiently allege that defendants, in their fiduciary capacities, made any knowing misstatements regarding Citigroup stock. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Gray, et al. v. Citigroup, Inc., et al." on Justia Law