Extra-ERISA contractual obligation regarding pension plan is enforceable

Hunter v. Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., 829 F.3d 357, 358 (5th Cir. 2016), involved the interpretation of parties’ rights and obligations regarding a pension plan following a corporate acquisition. Its discussion of the extent to which an employer can obligate itself not to change a plan, even when benefits are not vested, is noteworthy. Continue reading

Mutual fund redemptions payable to participants are not plan assets, and broker can retain interest earned while holding the cash

In re Fid. ERISA Float Litig., 829 F.3d 55 (1st Cir. 2016), held that Fidelity did not breach fiduciary duties to the plans at issue by allegedly earning interest on cash on its way to participants after a redemption had been made. The case involved a number of 401(k) plans that had hired Fidelity as trustee to act as intermediary between the plans, the participants and the mutual funds in which the participants’ funds were invested. In a nutshell, when a participant desired to make a withdrawal, the mutual fund would sell the shares and transfer the cash to Fidelity; Fidelity held the cash at least overnight in an account that allegedly earned interest for Fidelity; and it then distributed the cash to the participant. The plaintiffs, various participants and one plan administrator, sued on behalf of the plans. Continue reading

On Tibble remand, court finds plaintiffs forfeited continuing-duty-to-monitor argument

Tibble v. Edison Int’l, — F.3d –, 2016 WL 1445220 (9th Cir. Apr. 13, 2016) (“Tibble II”), marks the Ninth Circuit’s second review of the case after its earlier decision was vacated by the Supreme Court. Tibble v. Edison Int’l, 135 S.Ct. 1823 (2015) (“Tibble I”). Tibble I concerns the commencement of the statute of limitations for breach of fiduciary duty under 29 U.S.C. § 1113, which provides that an action must be brought within six years of “the last action which constituted a part of the breach or violation.” Continue reading

ERISA preempts state-required “all payer claim databases” (APCD)

About twenty states, including Vermont, have passed laws requiring all entities that provide health care services to report information to a state agency; these are called “all payer claims databases” or APCDs. Though they may have many purposes, they all generally are intended to enforce a universal and consistent (within the particular state, at least) submission of data that permits study, evaluation, manipulation and dissemination of the data, with an aim of improving health care outcomes and reducing costs. Of course, each state that establishes an APCD likely will have its own requirements, scope and format, which likely will differ in some respects from other states’ APCDs. And because a primary intent of ERISA was to avoid such patchwork, state-by-state regulation of employee benefit plans, a conflict was inevitable.

That conflict came to a head in Gobeille v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 136 S. Ct. 936 (2016), and the Supreme Court held that ERISA won, by preempting Vermont’s APCD law. Continue reading

Unpaid employer contributions cannot be plan assets; debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy

Bos v. Bd. of Trustees, 795 F.3d 1006 (9th Cir. 2015), involved the owner of a company that participated in a multi-employer pension plan. Because the owner had full control over the company finances, he was personally responsible for making the required contributions. Moreover, he signed a promissory note for some $360,000 in payments that the company had failed to make. Then he filed bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court and the district court held that the debt was not dischargeable, because it was incurred due to the debtor’s “fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity, embezzlement, or larceny.” 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(4). To so hold, the lower courts had concluded that the unpaid contributions were plan assets, and plaintiff’s control over those unpaid contributions made him a fiduciary, which gave rise to non-dischargeability. Continue reading

Plan Manager Was Not a Fiduciary For Purposes of Subrogation Claim Standing

In Humana Health Plan, Inc. v. Nguyen, 785 F.3d 1023 (5th Cir. 2015), Humana entered into a Plan Management Agreement (“PMA”) with the API Enterprises Employee Benefits Plan. The PMA stated that API had the right to make all discretionary decisions about the plan’s administration and management. The PMA authorized Humana to provide “subrogation/recovery services” to the plan. Continue reading

Sixth Circuit Rules Plan Terms are “Irrelevant” When Considering Equitable Claim

The Sixth Circuit is fast making itself the center of case law on equitable remedies under ERISA. In Pearce v. Chrysler Group LLC Pension Plan, 2015 WL 3797385 (6th Cir. June 18, 2015), the court held that a material conflict between an SPD and the plan permits a claim for equitable relief, apparently without any other element (like reliance) being required. For more discussion of the Sixth Circuit rulings on this subject in the last year or so, see Rochow 1, Rochow 2, and Stiso. Continue reading

Sixth Circuit At it Again: Orders Make-Whole Relief in Disability Benefit Claim

In Stiso v. Intl. Steel Group, 2015 WL 3555917 (6th Cir. June 9, 2015), the court reversed a ruling by the district court that dismissed a claim for make-whole relief, and directed the district court “to grant an equitable remedy [against the employer and insurer] equivalent to the promised increase in benefits to plaintiff.”

The decision was written by Judge Merritt, a senior judge who did not participate in the en banc decision in Rochow v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 780 F.3d 364 (6th Cir. 2015), which rejected a claim for make-whole relief in the form of disgorgement of profits. The Stiso panel also included Judge Boggs, who was in the majority in Rochow, and Judge Stranch, who had issued the lengthy dissent in Rochow. Continue reading

Ninth Circuit Replaces Gabriel Decision On Equitable Remedies; Modifies Interpretation of Amara

We previously reported on Gabriel v. Alaska Electrical Pension Fund, 755 F.3d 647 (9th Cir. 2014), which addressed limits on make-whole relief under 1132(a)(3), and affirmed judgment for the plan fiduciary. That decision was a divided one, with a partial dissent by Judge Berzon. In December, the panel withdrew its earlier decision, and replaced it with a new decision, Gabriel v. Alaska Electrical Pension Fund, — F.3d –, 2014 WL 7139686 (9th Cir. Dec. 16, 2014). The new decision affirmed summary judgment on two of the three measures of damages, and remanded to the district court on the third. Continue reading

Second Circuit Affirms Reformation Judgment in Amara v. Cigna; Reformation Governed by Contract Rules, Not Trust Rules

In 2011, the Supreme Court issued a major ERISA decision, Cigna Corp. v. Amara, 131 S.Ct. 1866 (2011), holding that courts could not reform an ERISA plan as part of a claim for benefits under 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B), but could do so as an equitable remedy under 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3). The case involved a situation in which the district court had ruled that Cigna had misrepresented the terms of a new pension plan when asking employees with vested rights in an outgoing plan to accept transfer. The district court had reformed the plan under 1132(a)(1)(B) to provide the benefits Cigna had promised; the Supreme Court held that the district court had used the wrong section of ERISA as the basis for its ruling.The Supreme Court then remanded for further consideration under the rules and limitations it had announced.

Amara v. CIGNA Corp., 775 F.3d 510, 513 (2d Cir. 2014), presumably is the final decision in this long-running dispute. Continue reading