Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
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Raybourne was a quality engineer for 23 years. The employer provided a long-term disability plan that paid benefits for up to 24 months if disability prevented him from performing the duties of his regular job. After 24 months, the plan paid benefits only if he was unable to perform all material duties of any occupation for which he was reasonably qualified. Raybourne suffered degenerative joint disease in his foot, with severe pain. In 2003, he stopped working and underwent the first of the four surgeries. From December 2003 through February 2006, Cigna paid benefits, then determined that he was not disabled under the more stringent standard. Raybourne exhausted administrative remedies, then sued under 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The district court ruled in favor of Cigna. On remand the court rejected Cigna’s “unconvincing” explanation for how the company determined that Raybourne was not disabled. The court found that Cigna relied on the report of a non-treating physician and on the Social Security Administration’s initial rejections of Raybourne’s claim, failing to consider the SSA’s final determination of disability. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that denial of benefits was based on a conflict of interest rather than on the facts and the terms of the policy. View "Raybourne v. CIGNA Life Ins. Co. of NY" on Justia Law

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In 2009, George, a vice president of JA, discovered that money withheld from his pay was not being deposited into his retirement account and health savings account. He complained to JA’s accountants and executives, including Burk. He contacted the Department of Labor but declined to file a complaint. He raised the issue with board members, then received checks for $2,600 for the missed deposits plus interest. His employment agreement ran until June 30, 2010, but he had discussed, with Burk and others, retiring in April 2010. On January 4, 2010, Burk told George not to return to work. Burk later discovered that George had drawn down the account containing his deferred compensation. J A concedes that George was entitled to withdraw the funds, but it did not rescind his discharge. George claimed violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1104(a) and retaliation for reporting that violation. The district court granted JA summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated. An employee’s grievance is within ERISA’s scope of protection against retaliation whether or not the employer solicited information. George notified JA of the potential breach of its fiduciary duties and asked what would be done. Those conversations involved an “inquiry.” View "George v. Jr. Achievement of Cent. IN, Inc." on Justia Law

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Schorsch enrolled in a long-term disability plan in 1991, but apparently never received a summary plan description or explanation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C.1132. In 1992 she was in an automobile accident; in 1993 Schorsch began receiving disability benefits. In 2006, at the plan’s request, Schorsch underwent a medical exam, which resulted in a report finding her capable of performing a medium duty job. The plan notified Schorsch that it would terminate her benefits, but did not mention a surveillance report, which was part of the determination. , Schorsch’s counsel sent a letter, but neither Schorsch nor her attorney submitted a request for review. The plan notified Schorsch that the appeals period had passed. Schorsch’s claimed breach of contract and unreasonable denial of benefits under Illinois law and ERISA violations. The plan had lost the administrative record relating to Schorsch’s claim. The district court granted summary judgment on the ground of failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There are exceptions that may excuse a failure to exhaust, but Schorsch offered no evidence of reasonable reliance on information missing from the notice or that alleged deficiencies were material. View "Schorsch v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Miller, a Fund beneficiary, fell from a ladder and was injured. He hired attorney Darr on a contingent fee basis to sue the person who was supposed to hold the ladder. The Fund advanced $86,709.73 in medical and disability benefits on the condition that Miller repay from any recovery, without deducting attorneys’ fees. Miller and Darr, signed a subrogation agreement. The lawsuit settled for $500,000. Calculating his fee based on $413,290.27, Darr submitted $57,806.48 to the Fund, stating that he was withholding $28,903.25 as a fee. To avoid jeopardizing Miller’s benefits Darr later submitted the $28,903.25. The Fund indicated that if Darr pursued his claim, it would consider Darr and Miller in breach of Plan terms and in repudiation of the subrogation agreement and would consider terminating coverage and seeking relief under ERISA. Darr sued the Fund in Illinois state court under the common fund doctrine, which permits a party who creates a fund in which others have an interest to obtain reimbursement for litigation expenses incurred in creating that fund. The district court enjoined Darr’s lawsuit. The Seventh Circuit vacated. A federal court may not enjoin “proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments,” 28 U.S.C. 2283. View "Trs. of the Carptenters' Health & Welfare Trust v. Darr" on Justia Law

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Jeranek, a beneficiary of the Humana Plan, was hospitalized in 2006. Three days later, she was admitted at Nu-Roc Nursing Home. She was 88 years old and suffered from a variety of maladies that required her to use 14 prescription medications. A physician estimated at the time of her admission that Jeranek had a life expectancy of about one year. Jeranek was a resident at Nu-Roc for 702 days. On several occasions she declined medical treatment and her physician understood that she was to receive comfort care only. From November 15 until November 19, 2006, Jeranek’s stay at Nu-Roc was paid for by Medicare. Humana paid $50,097.67 to Nu-Roc for services provided from November 20, 2006, to September 30, 2007, but later determined that its disbursement had been a mistake, reasoning that “custodial” care was not covered by the Plan. Humana sought reimbursement for its previous payments and denied coverage for October 1, 2007 through October 22, 2008, when costs for Jeranek’s care totaled $64,669.74. The district court determined that Humana’s denial of coverage was not arbitrary and granted summary judgment for the Plan. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Becker v. Chrysler LLC Health Care Benefits Plan" on Justia Law

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Multiemployer pension plans are created by collective bargaining agreements to provide benefits to employees of different firms. When an employer withdraws from an MPP, the plan remains liable to employees who have vested pension rights, but can no longer look to the employer to cover these obligations. The Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, 29 U.S.C. 1381-1461, assesses the employer with an exit price equal to its pro rata share of the funding shortfall (difference between present value of fund assets and present value of future obligations). Estimating the shortfall depends on estimating the amount by which current assets can be expected to grow with compound interest. To avoid having an employer new to a plan inherit withdrawal liability where existing members failed to fund the plan adequately in prior years, the statute creates default rules for assigning each employer a share of only so much of the shortfall as occurred while the employer was participating, 29 U.S.C. 1391(b)(2)-(4). Disputes about withdrawal liability are resolved by arbitration. The arbitrator in this case ruled that MMP trustees had over-assessed CPC’s withdrawal liability by $1,093,000. The district judge upheld the ruling. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting the “Hideous complexities” involved and its own lack of expertise. View "Chicago Truck Drivers, Helpers, & Warehouse Workers Union (Indep.) Pension Fund v. CPC Logistics, Inc." on Justia Law

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Aschermann suffers from degenerating discs and spondylolisthesis and had lumbar fusion operations in 2002 and 2004. Until 2003 she worked as a sales representative. Back pain left her unable to perform its duties. Between 2003 and 2009 she received disability payments under the employer’s disability plan, a welfare-benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The policy provides that after the first two years of benefits, the question becomes whether the recipient can perform any job in the economy as a whole. Lumbermens stopped paying disability benefits to Aschermann in fall 2009, concluding that she could do sedentary work. The district court held that the decision to end her disability benefits was not arbitrary. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Aschermann does not deny that her education B.S. in psychology and master’s degree in social work and experience suit her for many desk-bound positions, but claimed inability to work more than four hours a day. The insurer gave notice complying with ERISA, (29 U.S.C. §1133(1), that it wanted new diagnostic test results and other recent information; she was given a “reasonable opportunity” to supplement the file and receive a “full and fair review.” View "Aschermann v. Aetna Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In a class action under ERISA, the district court partially decertified the class, 3000 to 3500 members (57 to 71 percent). Plaintiffs appealed under Rule 23(f), which authorizes a court of appeals to “permit an appeal from an order granting or denying class-action certification.” After holding that an order materially altering a previous order granting or denying class certification is within the scope of Rule 23(f), the Seventh Circuit denied the appeal for failure to satisfy the criteria for a Rule 23(f) appeal. View "Matz v. Household Int'l Tax Reduction Inv. Plan" on Justia Law

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Marantz practiced pulmonary and critical care medicine. In 1997 she underwent surgery for a herniated disc and degenerative disc disease. The surgery did not eliminate her pain. In 1999, she stopped working full time. Through her employment with she received disability coverage from LINA. LINA approved her claim. Additional surgery did not resolve the problem. MRIs revealed degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis. In 2000 LINA provided funding for Marantz to enroll in an online Masters of Public Health program, for retraining for less-demanding work. In 2001, Marantz began working approximately 20 hours per week for the Illinois Department of Public Health. LINA offset disability benefits and reduced its monthly payment from $7,616 to $5,000 per month. LINA paid benefits for 60 months. In 2004, LINA investigated whether Marantz satisfied the policy’s more stringent definition of disability relevant after the first 60 months: “unable to perform all the material duties of any occupation for which [that worker] may reasonably become qualified based on education, training or experience.” In 2005 LINA terminated benefits, based on a functional capacity evaluation, doctors’ assessments, and surveillance. Marantz sued under the ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 113. The district court entered judgment in the defendants’ favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Marantz v. Permanente Med. Grp., Inc." on Justia Law

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At age 56, plaintiff left his position as a partner in a law firm and enrolled in school. Employees who depart at age 55 or older may withdraw money from the employer's retirement plan. They must pay income tax, but a 10 percent additional tax imposed on most withdrawals before age 59½ does not apply to distributions "made to an employee after separation from service after attainment of age 55," 26 U.S.C. 72(t)(1), (2)(A)(v). Plaintiff moved the funds from the plan to an individual retirement account then withdrew about $240,000. A rollover is not taxable 26 U.S.C. 402(c). Plaintiff paid income tax. The IRS claimed he owed the 10 percent additional tax, plus a penalty for substantial underpayment of taxes. The Tax Court held that he owed the tax on money not used for tuition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; the distribution was made to an IRA, not to the employee. Section 6662 excuses the taxpayer if there was substantial authority for the tax return's treatment, but there was no authority for plaintiff's position. View "Kim v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law