Justia ERISA Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
Price v. Bd. of Trs. of IN Laborers’ Pension Fund
The Fund, a multi-employer pension plan under ERISA, has a Plan, providing for administration by a Board with authority to make benefit determinations and amend the Plan, including retroactively. No amendment may result in reduced benefits for any participant whose rights have vested, except in specified circumstances. Price began receiving Plan disability benefits under the “Total and Permanent Disability Benefit” category in 1990, after work-related injuries left him unable to work. In 2001, the Fund notified Price that he no longer qualified for benefits under this category, but that he could continue receiving benefits under provisions for “Occupational Disability Benefit.” His benefits were discontinued after 2006, according to an Amendment. Price became eligible for early retirement in 2012. The Board rejected an appeal. The district court granted Price judgment in his suit under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). On remand from the Sixth Circuit, for review determination of vesting under the arbitrary and capricious standard, the judge again ruled in favor of Price. The Sixth Circuit again reversed; the court failed to look to the terms of the plan but instead found that because the Board’s decision letter did not discuss whether the benefits vested, the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. View "Price v. Bd. of Trs. of IN Laborers' Pension Fund" on Justia Law
Shy v. Navistar Int’l Corp.
In 1992 Navistar attempted to reduce its costs for retired employee health and life insurance benefits. Navistar’s retirement benefit plan is a registered employee health benefit plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 and Navistar is both plan administrator and fiduciary. In 1993, the district court entered judgment in a class action challenging the change, adopting an agreement between the parties and retaining jurisdiction. The Agreement established the Retiree Health Benefit and Life Insurance Plan. The Plan established the Health Benefit Program Summary Plan Description, which contains a description of the health benefits and is furnished to all beneficiaries. The Agreement divides health benefits into two plans: Plan 2 for those eligible for Medicare and Plan 1 for those who are not eligible. A prescription drug benefit was provided under the Agreement, identical for both Plan 1 and Plan 2. When Navistar moved to substitute Medicare Part D into the Plan, class members claimed violation of the Agreement. The district court ordered Navistar to reinstate, retroactively, the prescription drug benefit that was in effect before Navistar made the unilateral substitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed,View "Shy v. Navistar Int'l Corp." on Justia Law
Amos v. PPG Indus., Inc.
While employed at PPG, plaintiffs were represented by three labor unions. In 2001 PPG modified health benefits for retirees, requiring that retirees pay a portion of the cost. The unions thought the modification was a breach of collective bargaining agreements and sued, requesting that the Pennsylvania district court order PPG to arbitrate the benefit dispute with the unions. The district court entered judgment for PPG, holding that the benefits had not vested. The Third Circuit affirmed. Meanwhile, in 2005, more than a year before the district court entered judgment, several individual retirees filed a putative class action in the Southern District of Ohio. Their core allegation was identical to that in the Pennsylvania action; they asserted claims under the Labor Management Relations Act and ERISA and sought monetary damages and an injunction ordering reinstatement of full coverage. The district court held that the Pennsylvania judgment collaterally estopped the plaintiffs from arguing the contrary in this case. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court in the Pennsylvania action neither certified a class nor employed any other “special procedures” to protect the retirees’ interests in that action, so the plaintiffs are not bound to that decision. View "Amos v. PPG Indus., Inc." on Justia Law
Lipker v. AK Steel Corp.
Plaintiff is the surviving spouse of a 39-year AK employee, who died in 2008, then receiving a monthly pension benefit of $1,386. Plaintiff applied for the surviving spouse benefit and was advised that she was entitled to$693 (50%), reduced by 50% of her social security widow’s benefit (not yet determined), but not less than $140 per month. SSA first advised AK that plaintiff’s monthly benefit would be $458. Weeks later, SSA indicated that the widow’s benefit would be $1469. AK calculated the $140 benefit. Plaintiff received a statement from SSA indicating her widow’s benefit amount was $485 and plaintiff’s own earnings benefit was $973: a total monthly payment of $1,458. Plaintiff calculated that 50% of the $485 widow’s benefit, subtracted from $693, yielded a monthly benefit of $450.50 under the AK Plan. According to AK, $458 represented only the remainder of the entire widow’s benefit, $1,469, after offset for plaintiff’s own old-age retirement benefit, $1,011. In an action under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001, the district court awarded judgment to plaintiff. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that AK’s proposed interpretation of the plan language to be truer to its plain meaning when read with reference to the law it expressly refers to. View "Lipker v. AK Steel Corp." on Justia Law
Witmer v. Acument Global Tech., Inc.
A collective bargaining agreement governs the relationship between Acument and its retired employees. Prior to 2008, the company paid healthcare and life-insurance benefits to qualified retirees. When Acument ended these benefits in 2008, a class of 64 retirees claimed that the company had violated the CBA in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Labor Management Relations Act. The district court granted Acument summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, characterizing the issue as “a matter of contract.” The relevant language states that the company “reserves the right to amend, modify, suspend, or terminate the Plan,” consisting of: retiree medical coverage; retirement income; disability income; and life insurance. View "Witmer v. Acument Global Tech., Inc." on Justia Law
Reese v. CNH America LLC
In a 2009 opinion, the Sixth Circuit held that, in a 1998 collective bargaining agreement, CNH agreed to provide health-care benefits to retirees and their spouses for life, but rejected the suggestion that the scope of this commitment in the context of healthcare benefits, as opposed to pension benefits, meant that CNH could make no changes to the healthcare benefits provided to retirees. The court remanded for a determination of reasonableness with respect to CNH’s proposed changes to its retiree healthcare benefits, under which retirees, previously able to choose any doctor without suffering a financial penalty, would be put into a managed-care plan. The court listed three considerations: Does the modified plan provide benefits “reasonably commensurate” with the old plan? Are the proposed changes “reasonable in light of changes in health care”? And are the benefits “roughly consistent with the kinds of benefits provided to current employees”? On remand, the district court granted CNH summary judgment without reaching the reasonableness question or creating a factual record from which the determination could be made on appeal. The Sixth Circuit again remanded.View "Reese v. CNH America LLC" on Justia Law
Dudenhoefer v. Fifth Third Bancorp
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
Fallin v. Commonwealth Indus., Inc.
Plaintiffs are retirees who received benefits under Commonwealth Industries’ pension plan. They allege that the Plan underpaid them, in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B), when it did not include a subsidy for early retirement in its benefit calculations when it switched from a defined-benefit to a cash-balance plan in 1998. The district court dismissed all but one plaintiff (Corley) on limitations grounds and granted summary judgment to the defendants on the merits of Corley’s claims. The court reasoned that, as of 1998, Corley was not yet entitled to his early-retirement subsidy because he was then not yet 55, so the early-retirement benefit had not accrued yet, and the amendment did not reduce any accrued benefit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to the time-barred plaintiffs, but vacated as to Corley. On remand, the district court should consider whether the benefits payable to Corley under the relevant versions of the Plan constituted “an early retirement benefit” or “a retirement-type subsidy” which would be protected from elimination or reduction, or “an optional form of benefit” which would only be protected from elimination, 29 U.S.C. 1054(g)(2)(A), (B).View "Fallin v. Commonwealth Indus., Inc." on Justia Law
Moore v. Menasha Corp.
Plaintiffs are retired unionized employees of defendant and were covered by collective bargaining agreements that addressed healthcare benefits. The parties contest whether the CBAs guaranteed employees and their spouses lifetime healthcare benefits after retirement. After retiring, the employees and spouses continued to receive healthcare insurance from defendant. Between ages 62 to 65, defendant paid 80% of the premium costs. When the retirees turned 65, defendant assumed 100% of premium costs. In 2006, defendant informed plaintiffs that the company was instituting a new healthcare plan that would no longer cover 100% of the premiums. Plaintiffs claimed violations of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132. The district court ruled in plaintiffs’ favor as to employee coverage, but in favor of defendant as to spouses. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, in favor of plaintiffs. Although healthcare is a “welfare benefit,” not entitled to the same ERISA protection as pension benefits, employers are free to waive their power to alter welfare benefits. Defendant did so by offering vested healthcare coverage to retired employees and spouses, and by agreeing that CBAs could only be modified with signed, mutual consent of the parties. View "Moore v. Menasha Corp." on Justia Law
Guyan Int’l, Inc. v. Prof’l Benefits Adm’rs, Inc.
Four plaintiffs each established an employee benefit plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act funded by a combination of employer contributions and covered employee payroll deductions; each entered into a Benefit Management Service Agreement with PBA, which specified that PBA would provide services, such as paying medical providers for claims incurred under the Plans. Each Agreement required PBA to establish a segregated bank account for each Plan into which it would deposit the funds that it received from the corresponding plaintiff for paying the medical claims and authorized PBA to pay medical claims by writing checks from this account. PBA not only failed to use funds supplied by plaintiffs to pay the claims incurred under the corresponding Plan, but commingled and misappropriated Plan funds. PBA did not pay all claims, despite receiving money for payment of those claims from the respective plaintiffs. The amounts unpaid for the plaintiffs are: $501,380.75, $409,943.88, $384,574.17, and $44,290.12. The district court found that PBA was a fiduciary under ERISA (29 U.S.C. 1002(21)(A)), had breached its fiduciary duties, and that ERISA preempted Permco’s breach-of-contract claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Guyan Int'l, Inc. v. Prof'l Benefits Adm'rs, Inc." on Justia Law