Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in ERISA
W., et al. v. Health Net Life Insurance Company, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellant E.W. was a participant in an employer-sponsored health insurance plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). E.W.’s daughter, Plaintiff-Appellant I.W., was a beneficiary of E.W.’s plan. From September 2016 through December 2017, I.W. received treatment in connection with mental health challenges and an eating disorder at Uinta Academy (“Uinta”), an adolescent residential treatment center in Utah. In January 2017, Defendants-Appellees Health Net Insurance Company and Health Net of Arizona, Inc. began covering I.W.’s treatment under E.W.’s ERISA plan (the “Plan”). Effective February 23, 2017, Health Net determined I.W.’s care at Uinta was no longer medically necessary, and it denied coverage from that day forward. In assessing whether to discontinue coverage, Health Net applied the McKesson InterQual Behavioral Health 2016.3 Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Criteria. Health Net determined I.W. did not satisfy the InterQual Criteria within the relevant period and notified Plaintiffs in a letter dated March 1, 2017. Plaintiffs allegedly did not receive Health Net’s March 2017 denial letter, and I.W. remained at Uinta until December 2017, when she was formally discharged. After receiving notice in May 2018 that Health Net had denied coverage effective February 23, 2017, Plaintiffs appealed the decision. Health Net again determined I.W. did not satisfy the InterQual Criteria during the relevant period and upheld its initial denial. Plaintiffs then appealed to an external reviewer, which upheld the decision to deny coverage. Health Net moved to dismiss plaintiffs' legal claims under ERISA and the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (“MHPAEA”). The district court denied Plaintiffs’ motion and granted summary judgment to Health Net. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to Health Net on Plaintiffs’ ERISA claim; the Court reversed the finding Plaintiffs failed to state a claim under MHPAEA; and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "W., et al. v. Health Net Life Insurance Company, et al." on Justia Law
P., et al. v. United Healthcare Insurance, et al.
Plaintiffs David P. and his daughter L.P. sought to recover health care benefits under a medical plan David P. obtained through his employer. The district court awarded Plaintiffs benefits, determining that the manner in which Defendants processed Plaintiffs’ claims for coverage violated ERISA. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed: Defendants’ deficient claims processing circumvented the dialogue ERISA mandates between plan participants claiming benefits and the plan administrators processing those benefits claims. The Court disagreed, however, with the district court as to the appropriate remedy for the violations of ERISA’s claims-processing requirements at issue here. "Rather than outright granting Plaintiffs their claimed benefits, we conclude, instead, that Plaintiffs’ claims for benefits should be remanded to Defendants for proper consideration." The case was remanded to the district court with directions to remand Plaintiffs’ benefits claims to Defendants. View "P., et al. v. United Healthcare Insurance, et al." on Justia Law
ROBERT BUGIELSKI, ET AL V. AT&T SERVICES, INC., ET AL
Plaintiffs brought this class action against the Plan’s administrator, AT&T Services, Inc., and the committee responsible for some of the Plan’s investment-related duties, the AT&T Benefit Plan Investment Committee (collectively, “AT&T”). Plaintiffs alleged that AT&T failed to investigate and evaluate all the compensation that the Plan’s recordkeeper, Fidelity Workplace Services, received from mutual funds through BrokerageLink, Fidelity’s brokerage account platform, and from Financial Engines Advisors, L.L.C. Plaintiffs alleged that (1) AT&T’s failure to consider this compensation rendered its contract with Fidelity a “prohibited transaction” under ERISA Section 406, (2) AT&T breached its fiduciary duty of prudence by failing to consider this compensation, and (3) AT&T breached its duty of candor by failing to disclose this compensation to the Department of Labor. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The panel reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the prohibited transaction claim. Relying on the statutory text, regulatory text, and the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration’s explanation for a regulatory amendment, the panel held that the broad scope of Section 406 encompasses arm’s-length transactions. The panel held that the broad scope of § 406 encompasses arm’s-length transactions. Disagreeing with other circuits, the panel concluded that AT&T, by amending its contract with Fidelity to incorporate the services of BrokerageLink and Financial Engines, caused the Plan to engage in a prohibited transaction. The panel remanded for the district court to consider whether AT&T met the requirements for an exemption from the prohibited transaction bar. View "ROBERT BUGIELSKI, ET AL V. AT&T SERVICES, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law
D.K., et al. v. United Behavioral Health, et al.
Middle schooler A.K. struggled with suicidal ideation for many years and attempted suicide numerous times, resulting in frequent emergency room visits and in-patient hospitalizations. A.K.’s physicians strongly recommended she enroll in a residential treatment facility to build the skills necessary to stabilize. Despite these recommendations and extensive evidence in the medical record, United Behavioral Health (“United”) denied coverage for A.K.’s stay at a residential treatment facility beyond an initial three month period. Her parents appealed United’s denial numerous times, requesting further clarification, and providing extensive medical evidence, yet United only replied with conclusory statements that did not address the evidence provided. As a result, A.K.’s parents brought this lawsuit contending United violated its fiduciary duties by failing to provide a “full and fair review” of their claim for medical benefits. Both sides moved for summary judgment, and the district court ruled against United. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether United arbitrarily and capriciously denied A.K. medical benefits and whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding A.K. benefits rather than remanding to United for further review. The Court ultimately concluded United did act arbitrarily and capriciously in not adequately engaging with the opinions of A.K.’s physicians and in not providing its reasoning for denials to A.K.’s parents. The Court also concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion by awarding A.K. benefits outright. View "D.K., et al. v. United Behavioral Health, et al." on Justia Law
Carlson v. Northrop Grumman Severance Plan
Northrop laid off workers in 2012 and did not provide them all with severance benefits. Its Severance Plan provides that a laid-off employee regularly scheduled to work at least 20 hours a week will receive severance benefits if that employee “received a cover memo, signed by a Vice President of Human Resources.” The plaintiffs, who did not receive this “HR Memo,” filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001– 1461.The parties agreed to have a magistrate resolve the case, 28 U.S.C. 636(c). After the suit was certified as a class action, the district judge resumed control at Northrop's request, finding that the increased stakes constituted “good cause” for withdrawing the reference. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, ruling that the Plan gives the HR Department discretion to choose who gets severance pay.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first finding no abuse of discretion in the withdrawal of the reference order. The Plan makes the receipt of severance benefits contingent on the receipt of an HR Memo, which the class members did not get. Welfare-benefit plans under ERISA—unlike retirement plans—need not provide for vesting, and the terms of welfare-benefit plans are entirely in the control of the entities that establish them. When making design decisions, employers may act in their own interests and may include a discretionary component. Rights under ERISA are not subject to estoppel. The plan itself—not past practice—always controls. View "Carlson v. Northrop Grumman Severance Plan" on Justia Law
Gonzalez v. Blue Cross Blue Shield
Plaintiff is a former federal employee and participant in a health-insurance plan (“Plan”) that is governed by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act (“FEHBA”). The Plan stems from a contract between the federal Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and certain of its affiliates (together, “Blue Cross”). Blue Cross administers the Plan under OPM’s supervision. Plaintiff suffered from cancer, and she asked Blue Cross whether the Plan would cover the proton therapy that her physicians recommended. Blue Cross told her the Plan did not cover that treatment. So Plaintiff chose to receive a different type of radiation treatment, one that the Plan did cover. The second-choice treatment eliminated cancer, but it also caused devastating side effects. Plaintiff then sued OPM and Blue Cross, claiming that the Plan actually does cover proton therapy. As against OPM, she seeks the “benefits” that she wanted but did not receive, as well as an injunction directing OPM to compel Blue Cross to reform its internal processes by, among other things, covering proton therapy in the Plan going forward. As against Blue Cross, she seeks monetary damages under Texas common law. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that neither the advance process nor the proton-therapy guideline poses an immediate threat of injury, so injunctive relief is therefore unavailable. Further, the court found that FEHBA preempts Plaintiff’s common-law claims against Blue Cross. Accordingly, the court held that no relief is available under the relevant statutory and regulatory regime. View "Gonzalez v. Blue Cross Blue Shield" on Justia Law
McCutcheon v. Colgate-Palmolive Co.
Plaintiffs brought a class action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), arguing that Defendant Colgate-Palmolive Co. miscalculated residual annuities based on an erroneous interpretation of its retirement income plan and improperly used a pre-retirement mortality discount to calculate residual annuities, thereby working an impermissible forfeiture of benefits under ERISA. The district court granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs on these claims. Colgate appealed that order and the final judgment of the district court. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the text of the RAA is unambiguous and requires Colgate to calculate a member's residual annuity by subtracting the AE of LS from that member's winning annuity under Appendix C Section 2(b). Further, the court wrote that Colgate's "same-benefit" argument does not disturb our conclusion that the RAA's language is unambiguous. Because "unambiguous language in an ERISA plan must be interpreted and enforced in accordance with its plain meaning," the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the class Plaintiffs as to Error 1. View "McCutcheon v. Colgate-Palmolive Co." on Justia Law
RACHAEL WINSOR, ET AL V. SEQUOIA BENEFITS & INSURANCE, ET AL
Plaintiffs, current and former employees of RingCentral, participated in RingCentral’s employee welfare benefits plan. The plan participated in the “Tech Benefits Program” administered by Sequoia Benefits and Insurance Services, LLC, a management and insurance brokerage company. The Tech Benefits Program was a MEWA that pooled assets from employer-sponsored plans into a trust fund for the purpose of obtaining insurance benefits for employees at large-group rates. Plaintiffs filed this putative class action on behalf of the RingCentral plan and other Tech Benefits Program participants, asserting that Sequoia owed fiduciary duties to the plan under ERISA because Sequoia allegedly exercised control over plan assets through its operation of the Tech Benefits Program. Plaintiffs alleged that Sequoia violated its fiduciary duties by receiving and retaining commission payments from insurers, which Plaintiffs regarded as kickbacks, and by negotiating allegedly excessive administrative fees with insurers, leading to higher commissions for Sequoia. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of Article III standing. The court held that Plaintiffs failed to establish Article III standing as to either of their two theories of injury. The panel held, as to the out-of-pocket-injury theory, Plaintiffs failed to establish the injury in fact required for Article III standing because their allegations did not demonstrate that they paid higher contributions because of Sequoia’s allegedly wrongful conduct. And Plaintiffs failed to plead the third element, that their injury would likely be redressed by judicial relief. View "RACHAEL WINSOR, ET AL V. SEQUOIA BENEFITS & INSURANCE, ET AL" 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
ACS Primary v. UnitedHealthcare
Plaintiffs-Appellees, emergency care physician groups in Texas (the “Plaintiff Doctors”), have provided various emergency medical services to patients enrolled in health insurance plans insured by Defendants-Appellants UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or UnitedHealthcare of Texas, Incorporated (collectively, “UHC”). The Plaintiff Doctors are not within UHC’s provider network. In their operative complaint, the Plaintiff Doctors allege (among other claims) that UHC has failed to remit the “usual and customary rate” for the emergency care that the Plaintiff Doctors provide to patients insured by UHC in violation of the Emergency Care Statutes. UHC moved to dismiss the Plaintiff Doctors’ complaint, which was denied in part by the district court. The district court rejected UHC’s argument that the Emergency Care Statutes did not authorize a private cause of action. UHC immediately sought interlocutory review of two issues: (1) whether the Emergency Care Statutes authorize an implied private cause of action, and (2) whether the Plaintiff Doctors’ claim under the Emergency Care Statutes is otherwise preempted by ERISA. The Texas Supreme Court answered the certified question in the negative, holding that the Texas Insurance Code “does not create a private cause of action for claims under the Emergency Care Statutes.” Therefore, the Fifth Circuit found that the Plaintiff Doctors’ claim for violation of the Emergency Care Statutes must be dismissed. Because there is no private cause of action under the Emergency Care Statutes, the second issue before the court—whether the Plaintiff Doctors’ claim under the Emergency Care Statutes is otherwise preempted by ERISA—is now moot. View "ACS Primary v. UnitedHealthcare" on Justia Law