Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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The case concerned the scope of the audit authority of a multi-employer employee benefit fund covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). The New York State Nurses Association Benefit Fund (the “Fund”) sought an audit of the Nyack Hospital’s (the “Hospital’s”) payroll and wage records. The Hospital objected, claiming that the Fund had the authority to inspect only the payroll records of employees the Hospital identified as members of the collective bargaining unit. The district court held that the Fund was entitled to the records of all persons the Hospital identified as registered nurses but not to the records of any other employees.   The Second Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The court reversed to the extent the district court granted the Hospital’s cross-motion for summary judgment and denied the Fund’s motion for summary judgment. To the extent the district court granted the Fund’s motion for summary judgment and denied the Hospital’s cross-motion for summary judgment, the court affirmed. The court held that the audit sought by the Fund was authorized by the Trust Agreement and that the Hospital did not present evidence that the audit constituted a breach of the Fund’s fiduciary duty under ERISA. Accordingly, the audit was within the scope of the Fund trustees’ authority under the Supreme Court’s decision in Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Central Transport, Inc., 472 U.S. 559 (1985). View "New York State Nurses Association Benefits Fund v. The Nyack Hospital" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit seeking long-term disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) from Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company. The district court concluded that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust his disability plan’s administrative remedies. Plaintiff asserted that his administrative remedies should have been deemed exhausted because Hartford, in violation of the applicable ERISA regulation, failed to provide a final decision on his benefits within 45 days of his administrative appeal.   The Second Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s. The dispositive question on appeal was whether a valid benefit determination on review must determine whether a claimant is entitled to benefits. Based on the regulation’s plain language, structure, and purpose, the court held that it must. The court further held that, because Hartford did not extend the benefit determination period, duty to exhaust had ceased by the 46th day, the day he filed his federal case.The court further explained that the text of the Sec 503-1 supports Plaintiff’s argument that he did not receive a timely benefit determination on review. Finally, Section 503-1’s text, structure, history, and purpose are fully consistent. A “benefit determination on review” must finally decide the claimant’s benefits within 45 days, assuming the absence of special circumstances that require an extension. By the 46th day after his appeal, Hartford had not determined Plaintiff’s benefits nor extended its review time. So, Plaintiff was deemed to have exhausted his plan remedies and could bring suit in federal court. View "McQuillin v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff argued that the insurance contract between the parties was governed by a document provided on January 9, 2014, instead of February 19, 2014; that she is entitled to a judgment based on the insurance company’s miscalculation of her copay; and that even if the February 19 document controls, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 18022(c)(1) (“ACA”), mandates that the insurance company must apply the individual out-of-pocket limit rather than the family out-of-pocket limit; and that the generic-brand cost differential Plaintiff paid for her name-brand medication should count toward her out-of-pocket limit. Plaintiff filed a breach of contract claim under ERISA, and the district court granted Defendant judgment on the breach of contract claims under ERISA.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgments. The court held that the February document governed the relationship between the parties because Plaintiff was on notice as to its terms. Further, Plaintiff is not entitled to a money judgment for her copay because Defendant agreed to pay Plaintiff the copay differential.   The court also found that the ACA does not provide that the annual limitation on cost-sharing applies to all individuals regardless of whether the individual is covered under an individual “self-only” plan or is covered by a plan that is other than self-only for plans effective before 2016. Finally, the court held that the ACA nor the February document required Defendant to apply the brand-generic cost differential costs to Plaintiff’s out-of-pocket limit. View "Jacqueline Fisher v. Aetna Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Soto, a former Disney employee, alleged that Disney improperly denied her severance benefits upon her termination for physical illness that rendered her unable to work. Soto, a longtime employee had experienced a severe stroke and other medical problems, which left her unable to work. Disney formally terminated Soto’s employment, paid Soto sick pay, short-term illness benefits, and long-term disability benefits but did not pay her severance benefits. She filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B); (a)(3), alleging that the Plan Administrator improperly determined that she did not experience a qualifying “Layoff” as required for severance benefits.The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her case. Her complaint does not plausibly allege that the interpretation of “Layoff” and resulting denial of severance benefits to Soto were arbitrary and capricious. The Plan Administrator had reasoned bases, relating to taxation, for its interpretation of “Layoff” and consequent denial of severance benefits. The court noted an IRS regulation that defines an “involuntary” “termination of employment” as one arising from “the independent exercise of the unilateral authority of the [employer] to terminate to [employee’s] services, . . . where the [employee] was willing and able to continue performing services.” View "Soto v. Disney Severance Pay Plan" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an action brought by the Fund against C&S Wholesale Grocers under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The court held that the district court did not err in dismissing the Fund's evade-or-avoid liability theory; the district court did not err in dismissing the Fund's common control liability; the district court did not err in finding that C&S was not an employer of the Union employees at the Syracuse warehouse; and successor liability can, as a matter of law, apply to withdrawal liability under ERISA. However, in this case, the district court did not err in granting C&S's motion for summary judgment because C&S did not substantially continue Penn Traffic's relevant business, and therefore was not subject to successor liability. View "NY State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA) dispute, the Employer Trustees filed suit alleging that the Union Trustees breached their fiduciary duties under ERISA when they passed, by simple majority, two amendments to the trust agreements governing the Funds (the Trust Agreements). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Employer Trustees and concluded that the Union Trustees had breached their fiduciary duties under Section 404(a)(1)(D), because – under the terms of the Trust Agreements – the amendments were required to be passed by a unanimous vote of the Trustees.Although the Second Circuit agreed with the district court that, under the terms of the trust agreements, the Union Trustees' amendments were required to be passed by a unanimous vote, the court nevertheless concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the Employer Trustees because the Union Trustees were not acting in a fiduciary capacity when they passed those amendments. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment; dismissed the Employer Trustees' cross-appeal and appeals as moot; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Massaro v. Palladino" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) against a defunct photo‐finishing company and its former CEO, alleging various violations and breaches of fiduciary duties with respect to a deferred compensation plan.The Second Circuit held that the district court correctly denied defendants' invocation of ERISA's three-year statute of limitations for fiduciary claims because defendants failed to prove that all plaintiffs had knowledge of the breaches more than three years prior to the commencement of this suit; defendants waived any reliance on ERISA's six‐year statute of repose by failing to assert it any time prior to their reply brief before the court; the Plan is not exempt from ERISA's funding, fiduciary, and vesting requirements because it was not offered to a qualitatively select group of employees; the district court's decision to limit damages on plaintiffs' fiduciary claims to the Plan's projected balance as of 2004 was error, and damages must be recalculated; the district court erred in failing to assess the scope of CTC's liability, if any, for the claims asserted against it; the CEO is liable for the entire amount of the restoration award, because liability under ERISA is joint and several; although the district court's conclusion that Plaintiff Launderville is liable in contribution is supported by sufficient evidence, that liability is to the CEO, not to the Plan; there is no basis to impose liability on Launderville for her failure to comply with ERISA's reporting requirements; the district court's entry of judgment for defendants on plaintiffs' wrongful denial of benefits claims was error; the district court's order that the restoration award be distributed on a per capita basis to Plan participants risks violating those participants' vested rights and is, in any case, inconsistent with ERISA; and defendants' evidentiary challenge is meritless. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Browe v. CTC Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, participants of retirement plans administered by NYU and NYU School of Medicine, filed suit against NYU in its capacity as the fiduciary of plaintiffs' retirement plans, alleging breaches of NYU's fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).The Second Circuit vacated in part, concluding that the district court erred in dismissing the share-class claim because it was adequately pled and dismissal was not harmless. The court also vacated the denial of leave to amend and denial of the prejudiced post-trial motions because the district court erred in denying the motion to amend the complaint to add individual Committee members as defendants, an error that later prejudiced two of plaintiffs' post-trial motions.However, the court affirmed the judgment against plaintiffs regarding claims that they were entitled to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment; the use of written declarations for all direct testimony violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and denied them a fair trial; the district court's trial findings in NYU's favor on the recordkeeper-consolidation claim and the investment-retention claim were clearly erroneous; and Judge Forrest should have been disqualified from presiding over this case. View "Sacerdote v. New York University" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit held that the district court did not err in dismissing the Fund's amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) with prejudice where the Fund failed to plausibly state a claim for delinquent contributions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The court adopted in full the district court's reasoning. Specifically, the court held that the Fund failed to plausibly allege that the contractors had obligations to contribute to the Fund, as would be required for a delinquent contribution claim under ERISA; neither the contracts for school bus services nor the Fund's governing documents required the contractors to make the contributions demanded; and the Employee Protection Provision did not constitute either an ERISA pension plan or a collectively bargained agreement. Finally, the court agreed with the district court that the Fund failed to plausibly allege that defendants are liable under ERISA as fiduciaries or by participating in prohibited transactions. View "Division 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union v. New York City Department of Education" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment sustaining the final determination of Hartford Life with respect to plaintiff's disability benefits under the terms of the long term disability plan.The court held that California Insurance Code 10110.6(a) applies only to the claims of California residents. It does not apply to plaintiff because he was a New York resident at all relevant times. The court also held that "full and fair review" under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act's (ERISA) claims-procedure regulations does not require the claims administrator to produce documents developed or considered during the appeal from the initial determination while the claim is still under review and before a final benefits determination. Therefore, plaintiff cannot establish that Hartford Life did not provide his claim a full and fair review. In this case, the district court correctly reviewed Hartford Life's determination under the arbitrary-and-capricious standard and correctly concluded that the final determination was reasonable and supported by substantial evidence in the record. View "Mayer v. Ringler Associates Inc. and Af." on Justia Law