Employee Benefits Law Report

Tag Archives: ERISA

Sixth Circuit 502(a)(3) Windfall in Rochow v. Life Insurance Company of North America — ERISA’s Delicate Balance Goes So Far Off Kilter That I Am Queasy

When you think about it, balance is really important. It is hard to imagine how we all stand steady on a planet that is rotating on its access and rotating around the sun. The last earthquake I experienced left me queasy afterward, and that is how I feel after reading a new decision. Curses (or thank you?) to Brian Hall, editor of our sister blog, employerlawreport.com, for forwarding. Within days of writing the Dudenhoeffer v. Fifth Third Bank blog about a threat to ERISA’s delicate balance and importance of boundaries, we have yet another Sixth Circuit decision that blazes past boundaries and throws that delicate balance into a tailspin. The Sixth Circuit has, in the words of dissenting Judge McKeague, “taken an unprecedented and extraordinary step to expand the scope of ERISA coverage.”… Continue Reading

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

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 Court ruled that CIGNA, while acting as plan fiduciary, did not have authority to change the terms of the plan as written by CIGNA, acting as plan sponsor.… Continue Reading

First Circuit to Potential Business Acquirers: Buyer Beware…of Underfunded Pension Liabilities

We frequently encounter employers who are excited to purchase an underperforming company with the belief that it can make that company profitable. While we as ERISA counsel never want to rain on anyone’s parade, we always encourage these employers to do their due diligence with respect to the company's employee benefits plans. The last thing an acquirer wants is to learn that it is responsible for a previously unknown pension liability of the acquired entity. Careful planning can help minimize the risk of such liability. A recent First Circuit decision involving a private equity fund’s investment in a portfolio company shows just how serious this risk is. … Continue Reading

U.S. Supreme Court decision: U.S. Airways, Inc. v. McCutchen

The United States Supreme Court issued an opinion today in an ERISA case regarding the breadth of Section 502(a)(3) relief, and the common-fund doctrine. While the decision was unanimous on the primary issues, the Court surprised us with a 5-to-4 split on a secondary issue. Overall, the decision in U.S. Airways, Inc. v. McCutchen is … Continue Reading

DOL Sues Insurance Brokerage Firm – Selection of an Annuity Provider for a Terminating Pension Plan is a Fiduciary Duty

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) has sued an insurance brokerage firm, and its owner, for allegedly breaching fiduciary duties associated with purchasing an annuity contract for a terminating defined benefit plan. The complaint alleges that in 2003, the firm entered into an agreement to function as an ERISA fiduciary with respect to the purchase, for a … Continue Reading

Congress Finally Passes Pension Funding Stabilization Provisions

Now that the excitement (or was that dread?) surrounding the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of the health care reform legislation has dissipated somewhat, it seems timely to talk a little about pensions. At long last, and after several stalled efforts, meaningful pension funding stabilization legislation was enacted this summer. Congress passed and President … Continue Reading

Fee Disclosures Are Almost Here — What Should Plan Sponsors Do Now?

The quickly approaching deadline for written fee disclosures by covered service providers creates new homework for plan sponsors–in the form of enhanced fiduciary review obligations and a suggested need to review (and/or create) written service agreements. By now folks who work in the tax-qualified retirement industry are well (and perhaps painfully) aware that the United … Continue Reading

Fiduciary Litigation Update — Tussey v. ABB, Inc.

A recent case, Tussey v. ABB, Inc., has received much warranted and unwarranted attention in the Section 401(k) plan arena. In Part 1 of this legal update, we will explain the basics of what happened in this case. In Part 2, we will provide practical aspects of Tussey and deliver specific recommendations on how plan sponsors and fiduciaries can help minimize their potential fiduciary liability.… Continue Reading

ERISA Multi-employer Plan Contingent Liability Indemnification Provision is Not Prohibited by Public Policy

Multi-employer plans have been catching my eye lately. These plans, sometimes called “Taft-Hartley plans,” are maintained pursuant to collective bargaining agreements between unions and various employers. In Shelter Distribution, Inc. v. General Drivers, Warehousemen & Helpers Local Union No. 89, the collective bargaining agreement provided that the union would indemnify the company for any contingent … Continue Reading

Road to ERISA Class Action Certification Gets Bumpier With Second Circuit Decision in Nationwide Life Ins. Co. v. Haddock

In Nationwide Life Ins. Co. v. Haddock, No. 10-4237-cv (Feb. 6, 2012), the Second Circuit vacated a district court’s order certifying an ERISA class action in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011). This decision may be a game-changer in the ERISA class action litigation arena, and may ease the pressure on service providers and employers to settle even frivolous claims to avoid the expense of litigation.… Continue Reading

Allowing Employee Investment in an ESOP or 401(k) Employer Stock Fund Becomes a Bigger Gamble – Sixth Circuit Decision in Pfeil v. State Street Bank & Trust Co.

The Sixth Circuit has reversed the district court's dismissal of the GM ERISA stock-drop suit, Pfeil v. State Street Bank & Trust Co., and is allowing the case to proceed. You may recall that we cautioned fiduciaries of ESOPs and 401(k) plans allowing investment in employer stock to keep an eye on this case because it could be a game-changer. And now it is.… Continue Reading

New York’s Same Sex Marriage Law Has Broad Implications for Employee Benefit Plans

In a recent blog, we discussed a case that challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"), which defines marriage for federal law purposes as a legal union between a man and a woman. DOMA was enacted during the administration of President Bill Clinton. Presuming DOMA is deemed constitutional by the courts and is not repealed by Congress (a possibility that appears remote at this point in time), employers theoretically could comply with federal employee benefits laws contained in ERISA by adopting (or maintaining) the DOMA definition of spouse. … Continue Reading

Join Us in Cleveland or Columbus for One of Our Upcoming Seminars

Would you like to spend a morning outside of the office, enjoying free breakfast and continuing education credit? Here's your chance! This month, Porter Wright is sponsoring Employment Relations Seminars in both Cleveland and Columbus. I will be speaking about employee benefits developments and best practices at both session, and would love to see you there. … Continue Reading

The Fiduciary Exception to the Attorney-Client Privilege — “Document Everything” is a Best Practice, Except When It Isn’t

“Document everything” is often a best practice, but when you are an ERISA plan fiduciary communicating with your attorney, you may need to throw that thinking out the door. In Solis v. Food Employers Labor Relations Association the Fourth Circuit joined the Second, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits in holding that the attorney-client privilege does … Continue Reading

Update on What Fiduciaries Need to Know about Investments and Fees

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 … Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit Allows ERISA Section 404(c) Safe Harbor to Protect a 401(k) Plan’s Directed Trustee from Responsibility for Losses in Self-Directed Brokerage Accounts

The Sixth Circuit recently allowed the ERISA Section 404(c) safe harbor to protect a 401(k) plan’s directed trustee from being held responsible for losses in self-directed brokerage accounts. See, Tullis v. UMB Bank, N.A.  This case spotlights the importance of this safe harbor for plans that allow participant direction of investments, and the DOL’s recent … Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit Upholds Denial of ERISA-Based Income Protection Benefits; Plan Administrator Need Not Investigate Whether the Employer Violated FMLA

I wanted to direct our readers to a recent post from Brian Hall – Editor of our sister blog – Employer Law Report – regarding a recent Sixth Circuit decision in Farhner v. United Transportation Union Discipline Income Protection Plan.  As Brian states: … a well-drafted ERISA income protection or severance pay plan should enable the … Continue Reading
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