Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in ERISA
Harrison v. Envision Management Holding, Inc. Board, et al.
Plaintiff Robert Harrison, a participant in a defined contribution retirement plan established by his former employer, filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) against the fiduciaries of the plan alleging that they breached their duties towards, and caused damages to, the plan. Harrison sought various forms of relief, including a declaration that Defendants breached their fiduciary duties, the removal of the current plan trustee, the appointment of a new fiduciary to manage the plan, an order directing the current trustee to restore all losses to the plan that resulted from the fiduciary breaches, and an order directing Defendants to disgorge the profits they obtained from their fiduciary breaches. Defendants moved to compel arbitration, citing a provision of the plan document. The district court denied that motion, concluding that enforcing the arbitration provision of the plan would prevent Harrison from effectively vindicating the statutory remedies sought in his complaint. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no reversible error in the district court’s ruling and affirmed. View "Harrison v. Envision Management Holding, Inc. Board, et al." on Justia Law
Gragg v. UPS Pension Plan
Gragg worked as a driver for 31 years. For the first 26 years, he was an employee of Overnite; after UPS acquired Overnite, he was an employee of UPS. In 2008, UPS reclassified his position from nonunion to union, so that two different pension plans funded his pension. In 2010, each plan sent him information indicating that, after Gragg turned 65, each plan would reduce his monthly payment by $1754, which was the anticipated amount of his Social Security benefit. Gragg turned 65 in 2018. The following month, each plan reduced the amount of Gragg’s monthly benefit by the entire amount of his Social Security benefit—for a combined monthly reduction of $3508. Gragg’s overall monthly income declined by $1754, rather than remaining stable as promised by the letters. Gragg filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B).The district court held Gragg’s suit was barred by a six-year limitations period, having accrued when he received the letters. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The letters did not cause the injury upon which Gragg sued; the underpayments did. Before that injury, his claim had not accrued. An ERISA claim based on the letters alone would have rested upon “contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all.” View "Gragg v. UPS Pension Plan" on Justia Law
Haley v. TIAA
Plaintiff alleged that a participant loan program that Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) offered to her retirement plan is a prohibited transaction under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). After ruling that Haley’s suit could proceed against TIAA as a nonfiduciary under ERISA, the district court certified a class of employee benefit plans whose fiduciaries contracted with TIAA to offer loans that were secured by a participant’s retirement savings. TIAA argues that the district court erred when it found that common issues predominated over individual ones without addressing the effect of ERISA’s statutory exemptions on liability classwide and without making any factual findings as to the similarities of the loans. The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s decision holding that the predominance inquiry of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) requires that a district court analyze defenses, and the court did not do so here. Further, because the predominance inquiry of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) requires that a district court analyze defenses, and the court did not do so here, the district court did not analyze the exemptions, it also did not engage with the evidence that TIAA submitted to substantiate the purported variations among the plans. A district court cannot simply “take the plaintiff’s word that no material differences exist.” View "Haley v. TIAA" on Justia Law
VICKI COLLIER V. LINCOLN LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY
Plaintiff challenged Lincoln’s denial of her claim for long-term disability benefits. On de novo review, the district court affirmed Lincoln’s denial of Plaintiff's claim, but it adopted new rationales that the ERISA plan administrator did not rely on during the administrative process. Specifically, the district court found for the first time that Plaintiff was not credible and that she had failed to supply objective evidence to support her claim.The Ninth Circuit held that when a district court reviews de novo a plan administrator’s denial of benefits, it examines the administrative record without deference to the administrator’s conclusions to determine whether the administrator erred in denying benefits. The district court’s task is to determine whether the plan administrator’s decision is supported by the record, not to engage in a new determination of whether the claimant is disabled. Accordingly, the district court must examine only the rationales the plan administrator relied on in denying benefits and cannot adopt new rationales that the claimant had no opportunity to respond to during the administrative process.Here, the district court erred because it relied on new rationales to affirm the denial of benefits. View "VICKI COLLIER V. LINCOLN LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY" on Justia Law
Coastline JX Holdings LLC v. Bennett
In December 2019, Coastline JX Holdings LLC (Coastline), assignee of a judgment creditor’s interest in a money judgment entered against Stephen Bennett, served on Seamount Financial Group, Inc. (Seamount) a notice of levy on Bennett’s assets in an individual retirement account and a profit-sharing plan. After the trial court ordered Seamount to liquidate Bennett’s interest in both assets and turn them over to the levying officer to be delivered to Coastline, Bennett moved for reconsideration of the trial court’s order under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1008. In his motion, Bennett first argued to the trial court that the profit-sharing plan was protected from levy because it qualified as a plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). He also filed a motion to tax costs. The trial court denied Bennett’s motion, but informed the parties that, under its inherent authority, it would reconsider its prior order regarding the distribution of the profit-sharing plan only (not the individual retirement account) because the court previously had not considered the implications of it being an ERISA-compliant plan. After a hearing on the court’s own motion, the court reversed its prior decision and concluded the profit-sharing plan was exempt from levy due to preemption by ERISA. The court ordered Coastline to reimburse the profit-sharing plan any funds it had received under the court’s prior order. The trial court also denied Bennett’s motion to tax costs and the request for attorney fees that was included in his supplemental briefing. Coastline and Bennett each appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order and rejected each of the parties’ arguments on appeal. View "Coastline JX Holdings LLC v. Bennett" on Justia Law
Hawkins v. Cintas Corp.
The Cintas “defined contribution” retirement plan has a “menu” of investment options in which each participant can invest. Each Plan participant maintains an individual account, the value of which is based on the amount contributed, market performance, and associated fees. Under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1102(a)(1), the Plan’s fiduciaries have the duty of loyalty—managing the plan for the best interests of its participants and beneficiaries—and a duty of prudence— managing the plan with the care and skill of a prudent person acting under like circumstances. Plaintiffs, two Plan participants, brought a putative class action, contending that Cintas breached both duties. Plaintiffs had entered into multiple employment agreements with Cintas; all contained similar arbitration provisions and a provision preventing class actions.The district court declined to compel arbitration, reasoning that the action was brought on behalf of the Plan, so that it was irrelevant that the two Plaintiffs had consented to arbitration through their employment agreements–the Plan itself did not consent. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The weight of authority and the nature of ERISA section 502(a)(2) claims suggest that these claims belong to the Plan, not to individual plaintiffs. The actions of Cintas and the other defendants do not support a conclusion that the plan has consented to arbitration. View "Hawkins v. Cintas Corp." on Justia Law
Bristol SL Holdings, Inc. v. Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co.
Through a bankruptcy proceeding, Bristol became the successor-in-interest to Haven, an accredited mental-health and substance-abuse treatment center that regularly serviced patients insured by Cigna. Bristol alleged that Cigna violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and state law by denying Haven’s claims for reimbursement for services provided. Haven was out-of-network for Cigna’s insureds. The district court dismissed Bristol’s ERISA claim, as an assignee of a healthcare provider, for lack of derivative standing, or lack of authority to bring a claim under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B).The Ninth Circuit reversed. Under ERISA, a non-participant health provider cannot bring claims for benefits on its own behalf but must do so derivatively, relying on its patients’ assignments of their benefits claims. Other assignees also may have derivative standing if extending standing would align with the goal of ERISA. Refusing to allow derivative standing for Bristol would create serious perverse incentives that would undermine the goal of ERISA. Denying derivative standing to health care providers would harm participants or beneficiaries because it would discourage providers from becoming assignees and possibly from helping beneficiaries who were unable to pay up-front. View "Bristol SL Holdings, Inc. v. Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Sheet Metal Workers’ Health & Welfare Fund of North Carolina v. Law Office of Michael A. DeMayo, LLP
Simpson's insurer, the Fund, paid Simpson’s medical costs ($16,225) arising from a car accident. Simpson hired the Firm to represent her in a personal injury suit. The Fund maintained a right of subrogation and reimbursement. Simpson settled her suit for $30,000. After depositing the settlement funds in a trust account, the Firm paid $9,817.33 to Simpson, $1,000.82 to other lienholders, and $10,152.67 to its own operating account for fees and expenses, offering the Fund $9,029.18. The Fund sued under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) section 502(a)(3), claiming an equitable lien of $16,225. The Firm issued a $9,029.18 check to the Fund, exhausting the settlement funds.The district court issued a TRO requiring the Firm to maintain $7,497.99 in its operating account. The Firm argued that the Fund sought a legal remedy because the Firm no longer possessed the settlement funds; ERISA 502(a)(3) only authorizes equitable remedies. The Fund argued that it sought an equitable remedy because the settlement funds were in the Firm’s possession pursuant to the TRO and cited the lowest intermediate balance test: a defendant fully dissipates a plaintiff’s claimed funds (by spending money from the commingled account to purchase untraceable items) only if the balance in the commingled account dipped to $0 between the date the defendant commingled the funds and the date the plaintiff asserted its right to the funds. The district court granted the Firm summary judgment, reasoning that the Firm dissipated the settlement funds before the TRO issued; the Fund could not point to specific recoverable funds held by the Firm and sought a legal remedy. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, concluding that no issues had been preserved for review. View "Sheet Metal Workers' Health & Welfare Fund of North Carolina v. Law Office of Michael A. DeMayo, LLP" on Justia Law
Card v. Principal Life Insurance Co.
Card was diagnosed with “chronic lymphocytic leukemia,” which can cause fatigue. Card alleges her worsening fatigue left her unable to perform her job as a night-shift nurse. She applied for disability benefits under an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plan administered by Principal, which denied her requests for short-term, long-term, and total disability benefits. Card sued. The district court granted Principal summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded the case to Principal for further proceedings. Principal granted Card short-term disability benefits but requested additional information for her other claims. Card then filed motions in the district court, seeking attorney’s fees and asking the court to reopen the case because Principal had not reached a benefits decision for her other claims within the 45 days allegedly required by ERISA . The district court issued a “virtual order” on its docket, denying the motions for lack of jurisdiction.The Sixth Circuit first held that it had jurisdiction to review that order then vacated and remanded to the district court. A district court retains jurisdiction over a beneficiary’s ERISA suit during the remand. "As in every other ERISA case in this procedural posture," the prior decision remanded to the district for it to retain jurisdiction while Principal engaged in the new benefits determination. View "Card v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Ramos v. Banner Health
A class of employees who participated in Banner Health, Inc.’s 401(k) defined contribution savings plan accused Banner and other plan fiduciaries of breaching duties owed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). A district court agreed in part, concluding that Banner had breached its fiduciary duty to plan participants by failing to monitor its recordkeeping service agreement with Fidelity Management Trust Company: this failure to monitor resulted in years of overpayment to Fidelity and corresponding losses to plan participants. During the bench trial, the employees’ expert witness testified the plan participants had incurred over $19 million in losses stemming from the breach. But having determined the expert evidence on losses was not reliable, the court fashioned its own measure of damages for the breach. Also, despite finding that Banner breached its fiduciary duty, the district court entered judgment for Banner on several of the class’s other claims: the court found that Banner’s breach of duty did not warrant injunctive relief and that Banner had not engaged in a “prohibited transaction” with Fidelity as defined by ERISA. The class appealed, arguing the district court adopted an improper method for calculating damages and prejudgment interest, abused its discretion by denying injunctive relief, and erred in entering judgment for Banner on the prohibited transaction claim. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court in each instance. View "Ramos v. Banner Health" on Justia Law