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Employee Benefits Law Report Reporting on recent trends and developments affecting employee benefits

Category Archives: ESOPs

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ESOP Trustee Indemnification Stymied by Arbitrator’s Legally Unsupportable Analysis – Schafer v. Multiband Corp.

Posted in ERISA Fiduciary Compliance, ESOPs, Retirement Plans

I am not a fan of binding arbitration in the context of ERISA plans, and a new Sixth Circuit decision, Schafer v. Multiband Corp., demonstrates why.

Two individuals (Schafer and Block) founded a company. As part of a series of corporate transactions, two employee stock ownership plans (“ESOPs”) were formed. Schafer and Block were appointed as trustees of the ESOPs, and entered into indemnification agreements with mandatory arbitration clauses. While the DOL was investigating its suspicion that the ESOPs had purchased stock at inflated prices, and with knowledge of this, Multiband entered into a purchase agreement to buy the …


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Supreme Court Takes on Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer ESOP Dispute

Posted in ERISA Litigation, ESOPs, Other Articles

As I mentioned in my Heimeshoff v. Hartford blog, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review Dudenhoeffer v. Fifth Third Bancorp, now captioned Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer. The Court granted certiorari on the question as originally framed:

Whether the Sixth Circuit erred by holding that Respondents were not required to plausibly allege in their complaint that the fiduciaries of an employee stock ownership plan (“ESOP”) abused their discretion by remaining invested in employer stock, in order to overcome the presumption that their decision to invest in employer stock was reasonable, as required by [ERISA], …


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Dudenhoeffer v. Fifth Third Bank at the U.S. Supreme Court: DOL Brief and the ESOP Sponsor / Fiduciary Boundary Dispute

Posted in ERISA Litigation, ESOPs

The DOL has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dudenhoeffer v. Fifth Third Bank employee stock ownership plan (“ESOP”) dispute that made me think about Boundaries, a book about the importance of establishing boundaries, and compelling respect for those boundaries. In designing ERISA, Congress forged a delicate balance between protecting benefit plans and encouraging employers to provide those benefit plans. The U.S. Supreme Court reminded us in CIGNA v. Amara that this delicate balance includes carefully distinguishing the roles of plan sponsors and fiduciaries, even when one entity (e.g., the employer) wears both hats. The …


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Join Porter Wright and GBQ for a breakfast seminar on Friday, October 11 on ESOPs

Posted in ESOPs

Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs):
A Tax-Advantaged Strategy for Growth, Liquidity and Succession Planning

In an uncertain tax and financial environment, business owners are increasingly looking at ESOPs as a potential strategy for tax-preferred growth and business succession planning. Join Porter Wright and GBQ Consulting LLC as we present a morning seminar discussing the ins and outs of ESOPs.

Friday, October 11
8:00 – 8:30 a.m.

Registration and Breakfast

8:30 – 10:30 a.m.
Program

Topics to be discussed include:

  • What is an ESOP?
  • Why adopt an ESOP?
  • ESOP financing considerations
  • ESOP valuation considerations
  • Tax planning for selling shareholders
  • Is an

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Sutardja Decision Shows Employers How to Preserve Stock Option Flexibility In a 409A World

Posted in ESOPs

Many commentators were surprised by the recent federal court of claims decision to deny summary judgment in Sutardja v United States. Sutardja, which currently is headed for trial, involves the IRS assessing a public company executive with Code Section 409A penalties, including a 20% additional income tax plus interest, with respect to potentially discounted stock options. What’s surprising isn’t so much the court’s decision, but that the IRS chose this particular fact pattern to assess Code Section 409A penalties. The option grant procedures that the employer followed would not be confused with best practices, but they occurred before …


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ESOP Dividend Deduction Rule Targeted by Obama Budget Proposal

Posted in ESOPs

The just-released Obama budget proposal includes a proposal to eliminate the IRC Section 404(k) ESOP dividend deduction for large C corporations (or at least what the Obama administration describes as large for this purpose).  The Obama budget proposal would repeal the deduction for dividends paid with respect to stock held by an ESOP sponsored by a C corporation (excluding C corporations with annual receipts of $5 million or less).  The current provisions, as described below, allowing for immediate distribution or use of an applicable dividend would remain intact (although without the corresponding deduction).  These distribution and use rules would be …


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IRS Announces Cost of Living Adjustments for Retirement Plans

Posted in ESOPs, Retirement Plans

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) recently announced cost of living adjustments affecting retirement plans. These new limitations are effective for tax year 2012. Many, but not all, applicable dollar limitations will increase. For this purpose, the IRS uses an adjustment process that is similar to the process used to adjust Social Security benefits (which also will increase effective in 2012).

Some of the more important increases relevant to retirement plans are as follows:

  • the elective deferral limit applicable to 401(k), 403(b) and certain 457 plans will be increased from $16,500 to $17,000;
  • the dollar limitation on the maximum annual benefit

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“Fiduciary” Regulation Change Put On Hold, Pending Revision and Economic Analysis

Posted in ERISA Fiduciary Compliance, ESOPs

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration(EBSA) has put the brakes on its proposed rule on the definition of a fiduciary, which was slated to become final in the near future. EBSA’s goal for the regulatory change was to ensure that potential conflicts of interest among financial advisors would not compromise the quality of investment advice to individuals. Many employers were concerned that the regulation could increase the costs of investments in their 401(k) plans, and undermine efforts to educate employees about investments and retirement planning. The proposed regulation would also have turned employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) …


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Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Schoonejongen Comes Back to Haunt Us — Follow Your Plan Amendment Procedures

Posted in ERISA Litigation, ESOPs, Health and Welfare Plans, Retirement Plans

We often are asked why plan amendment procedures vary from plan to plan, and why it is important to follow those procedures—however written. Sometimes there are unique reasons for the specified procedures, but very possibly the answer goes back to the 1990′s and a case called Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Schoonejongen, which took us on an amendment procedure roller coaster ride. First, the district court in Curtiss-Wright invalidated a plan amendment to cease post retirement health care coverage on the basis that the plan failed to specify a valid “procedure for amending [the] plan, and for identifying the persons who …


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Update on What Fiduciaries Need to Know about Investments and Fees

Posted in ERISA Litigation, ESOPs

Plan fiduciaries generally understand that they have certain duties related to plan investments and service provider fees. Court decisions over the years have shed some light on these duties. Fiduciaries should already be doing the following to satisfy their fiduciary duties:

1. Obtain some measure of expertise in plan investments. Lacking expertise, a fiduciary should hire someone with the professional knowledge required to carry out the investment functions.

2. When selecting service providers, engage in a reasoned decision-making process and document the basis for decisions. The duty to act prudently focuses primarily on the decision-making process.

3. Pay only reasonable


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DOL Urges Sixth Circuit to Weaken Presumption of Prudence of Plan Fiduciaries in Stock Drop Cases

Posted in ERISA Litigation, ESOPs

The United States Department of Labor (“the DOL”) has challenged the dismissal of a 401(k) plan fiduciary breach claim on two grounds, in an amicus brief filed with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, See Pfeil v. State Street Bank & Trust Co., E. D. Mich. No. 09CV12229; (Brief available here). One argument the DOL is rejecting is a position that affords fiduciaries of 401(k) plans and ESOPs a presumption of reasonableness in stock drop cases. The DOL’s second argument is that under the ERISA Section 404(c) safe harbor, fiduciaries may still be liable for the imprudent selection …


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