Justia ERISA Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Melissa McIntyre v. Reliance Standard Life
Plaintiff sued Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company under 29 U.S.C. Section 1132(a)(1)(B), seeking to recover long-term disability benefits. The district court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and denied Reliance’s cross-motion. Reliance appealed, and the Eighth Circuit reversed. The court explained that the cases cited do not demonstrate that Reliance has a history of biased claims administration. Nor do they show some other systemic flaw in its claims review process that affected Reliance’s review of Plaintiff’s claim. On the other hand, Reliance does not argue that it maintained structural separations to minimize its conflict of interest. Therefore, the conflict of interest, in this case, deserves “some weight,” but the court concluded that it does not indicate that Reliance abused its discretion. The court wrote that substantial evidence supports Reliance’s decision, and neither the decisional delay in this case nor the purported conflict of interest leads us to conclude that Reliance abused its discretion. View "Melissa McIntyre v. Reliance Standard Life" on Justia Law
Darrin Shafer v. Zimmerman Transfer, Inc.
Plaintiff underwent bariatric surgery to lose weight. A few months later, Plaintiff began working for Zimmerman Transfer, Inc. and became a participant in its self-insured employee benefit plan. Zimmerman is the plan administrator, and Benefit Plan Administrators of Eau Claire, LLC (“BPA”) served as the third-party administrator until January 2020. After exhausting his administrative appeals, Plaintiff sued BPA and Zimmerman for benefits under Section 1132(a)(1)(B). He then moved for summary judgment against BPA and Zimmerman. Both Defendants filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that because Plaintiff’s plan specifically excludes coverage of treatment for complications of weight-reduction surgery, neither Iowa law nor the ACA requires that his treatment be covered. It is undisputed that Plaintiff’s treatment was due to a complication of his prior bariatric surgery. Thus, Iowa law and the ACA do not require that his treatment be covered. Further, the court wrote that imposing and enforcing coverage limitations, even if it results in a plan participant paying large medical bills, is not inconsistent with the plan’s goal because the plan must allocate limited resources among all plan participants. Accordingly, the court concluded that there was no abuse of discretion in denying Plaintiff’s claim for benefits because the interpretation of the plan was reasonable, and the decision to deny benefits was supported by substantial evidence. View "Darrin Shafer v. Zimmerman Transfer, Inc." on Justia Law
Adam Ruessler v. Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust
The Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust Board of Trustees (“Board”) denied Plaintiff’s application for disability pension benefits under a plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Plaintiff argued the Board’s stated reason for denying his application was unreasonable and the Board violated its fiduciary duties. The district court granted the Board’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the Board did not breach its fiduciary duty when it did not notify Plaintiff the Notice of Decision he submitted on appeal was insufficient. The initial letter the Board sent to Plaintiff noting the absence of the document clearly stated Plaintiff needed to submit a “Notice of Award.” When the plain language of the Plan and the Board’s other communications are consistent, there is no obvious unfairness to Plaintiff if his claim is denied because he submitted the wrong document. Further, the court found that there is no evidence the Board knew silence would harm Plaintiff because, in the May 2018 phone call, Plaintiff himself asked about how waiting to receive the pension would affect the annuity amount and ultimately requested estimates for retirement at later ages. Moreover, Plaintiff has not identified anything that should have caused the Board to know he misunderstood his rights. Under these circumstances, Plaintiff failed to establish a violation of the duty of loyalty. View "Adam Ruessler v. Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust" on Justia Law
Kristina Powell v. Minnesota Life Insurance Co.
Plaintiff sued Minnesota Life Insurance Company and Securian Life Insurance Company, alleging that their denial of her claim for life insurance benefits violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). The district court dismissed her complaint under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the district court properly dismissed Plaintiff’s Section 1132(a)(3) claim. First, her contention that Minnesota Life and Securian failed to notify her husband of his conversion right does not amount to a breach of fiduciary duty because the terms of her husband’s policy did not require notice, and Plaintiff points to no provision of ERISA that would require such notice. Second, her assertion that Minnesota Life and Securian misrepresented that her husband’s conversion window would be extended rests on a misreading of the February 24 letter; Minnesota Life and Securian made no such representation. View "Kristina Powell v. Minnesota Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Terri Yates v. Symetra Life Insurance Company
After her husband died of a heroin overdose, Plaintiff sought accidental death benefits under an employer-sponsored benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The plan’s insurer, Symetra Life Insurance Company, denied her claim, and Plaintiff sued. The district court granted summary judgment in Plaintiff’s favor. Symetra appealed, arguing that Plaintiff’s suit is barred by her failure to exhaust internal review procedures and that her husband’s death otherwise falls under an exclusion to coverage. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Symetra contends that the exclusion applies to Plaintiff’s husband’s death because he “purposely” used heroin. But just because the act of using an illegal substance is purposeful does not mean that an injury stemming from that act, including a fatal overdose, was too. Symetra also maintains that Plaintiff’s husband, as a “longtime drug user,” was surely aware of the risks of using heroin and that his “generalized knowledge” of such risks is sufficient for his death to fall under the “intentionally self-inflicted injury” exclusion. The court reasoned that even assuming Symetra’s characterization of Plaintiff’s husband’s drug use is accurate, the argument attempts to replace an exclusion that applies only to “intentionally self-inflicted” injuries with one that also includes injuries resulting from reckless, or even negligent, conduct. The court wrote that the plain language of Symetra’s “intentionally self-inflicted injury” exclusion does not apply to unintended injuries like Plaintiff’s husband’s heroin overdose. Thus, Symetra’s denial of Plaintiff’s claim for accidental death benefits based on that exclusion was erroneous. View "Terri Yates v. Symetra Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Cons. Laborers Welfare Fund v. RoadSafe Traffic Systems, Inc.
A collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) required RoadSafe Traffic Systems, Inc. to contribute to four employee benefits Funds. The Funds sued for unpaid contributions, alleging that the CBA unambiguously requires contributions for all hours worked by covered employees, regardless of the type of work performed. RoadSafe countered that the CBA unambiguously requires contributions only for construction and highway work. The district court granted summary judgment to RoadSafe. The issue on appeal was whether the CBA obligates RoadSafe to make contributions to the Funds for all or only specified types of work The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that by its plain language, Article V of the CBA limits RoadSafe’s contribution obligations to “Building Construction” and “Highway/Heavy” categories of work. Because work coded as NON or “shop hours” is not within the definitions of either “Building Construction” or “Highway/Heavy,” the CBA does not require RoadSafe to make contributions for the coded work. Therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment to RoadSafe. View "Cons. Laborers Welfare Fund v. RoadSafe Traffic Systems, Inc." on Justia Law
Theresa Hursh v. DST Systems, Inc
Plaintiffs in these 177 consolidated appeals1 were participants in a 401(k) Profit Sharing Plan (the “Plan”) provided to employees by DST Systems, Inc. (“DST”), a financial and healthcare services company based in Kansas City, Missouri. At the time in question, DST was the Plan’s sponsor, administrator, and a designated fiduciary. Ruane Cunniff & Goldfarb Inc. (“Ruane”) was a Plan fiduciary involved in managing the Plan’s investments. Between October and December 2021, the district court issued seven largely identical orders confirming the arbitration awards to 177 claimants and granting their requests for substantial costs and attorneys’ fees. Defendants appealed, raising numerous issues. The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment including the awards of attorney’s fees, and the consolidated cases are remanded to the district court for determination of transfer and subject matter jurisdiction issues, to the extent necessary. The court concluded that transfer under Section 1631 is an issue that can be addressed before the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction is resolved. The court declined to consider the issue because Badgerow has changed underlying circumstances that may affect whether transfer “is in the interest of justice.” View "Theresa Hursh v. DST Systems, Inc" on Justia Law
Jay Richmond v. Life Insurance Company
Plaintiff sought accidental death benefits under an employee benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) after his wife died from injecting herself with a cocktail of unprescribed narcotics. The district court upheld the Life Insurance Company of North America’s (LINA) decision to deny benefits based on a policy exclusion for the “voluntary ingestion of any narcotic, drug, poison, gas or fumes unless prescribed or taken under the direction of a Physician.” Plaintiff appealed, contending that the district court erred because LINA’s decision was unreasonable and not supported by substantial evidence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court decided that LINA’s interpretation of “ingestion” was reasonable. The court then turned to whether LINA’s application of its interpretation to the facts is supported by substantial evidence. Here, the wife undisputedly died because she willingly injected herself with a combination of unprescribed narcotics. Therefore, there is sufficient evidence to support LINA’s application of the voluntary ingestion exclusion to the wife’s death. Thus, because the court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that LINA’s denial of benefits was justified in light of the voluntary ingestion exclusion, the court wrote it need not address LINA’s assertion that the wife’s death was not accidental. View "Jay Richmond v. Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Daniel Matousek v. MidAmerican Energy Company
Defendant, MidAmerican, selected a defined-contribution plan, which can rise in value over time but includes no fixed payments. Plaintiffs alleged their employer failed to properly manage and monitor the costs of the company's defined-contribution retirement plan. The district court granted MidAmerican’s motion to dismiss. Without mentioning the recordkeeping allegations, it concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to plead meaningful benchmarks for “assessing the performance of the challenged funds.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiffs allege that no more than $100 per participant is reasonable for a plan with approximately $1 billion in total assets and 5,000 participants. Even if the fees here look high, the court explained it cannot infer imprudence unless similarly sized plans spend less on the same services. Rather than point to the fees paid by other specific, comparably sized plans, Plaintiffs rely on industry-wide averages. But the averages are not all-inclusive: they measure the cost of the typical “suite of administrative services,” not anything more. Finally, the court concluded that there was no abuse of discretion in the district court’s decision to dismiss the complaint with prejudice without giving Plaintiffs a chance to amend it. Here, Plaintiffs never requested leave to amend, much less “submitted an amended complaint.” View "Daniel Matousek v. MidAmerican Energy Company" on Justia Law
Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co.
Principal Life Insurance Company (Principal) offers a product called the Principal Fixed Income Option (PFIO), a stable value contract, to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Plaintiff on behalf of himself and a class of plan participants who deposited money into the PFIO, sued Principal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), claiming that it (1) breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty by setting a low-interest rate for participants and (2) engaged in a prohibited transaction by using the PFIO contract to make money for itself. The district court granted summary judgment to Principal after concluding that it was not a fiduciary. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Principal was a fiduciary. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Principal on both claims after a bench trial. Plaintiff challenges the court’s judgment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Principal and the participants share an interest because a guaranteed CCR that is too high threatens the long-term sustainability of the guarantees of the PFIO, which is detrimental to the interest of the participants. The question then becomes whether the court clearly erred by finding that Principal set the CCR in the participants’ interests. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the deducts were reasonable and set by Principal in the participants’ interest of paying a reasonable amount for the PFIO’s administration. Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Principal on the prohibited transaction claim because it is exempted from liability for receiving reasonable compensation. View "Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law