Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in ERISA
Cunningham v. Cornell University
Plaintiff class participates in “403(b)” retirement plans administered by Cornell University (“Cornell”). Plaintiffs brought this suit against Cornell and its appointed fiduciaries alleging a number of breaches of their fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). Plaintiffs appealed from entry of judgment in Defendants’ favor on all but one claim, which was settled by the parties. On appeal, Plaintiffs challenged: (1) the dismissal of their claim that Cornell entered into a “prohibited transaction” by paying the plans’ recordkeepers unreasonable compensation, (2) the “parsing” of a single count alleging a breach of fiduciary duty into separate sub-claims at the motion to dismiss stage, (3) the award of summary judgment against Plaintiffs for failure to show loss on their claim that Defendants breached their duty of prudence by failing to monitor and control recordkeeping costs, and (4) the award of summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiffs’ claims that Cornell breached its duty of prudence by failing to remove underperforming investment options and by offering higher-cost retail share classes of mutual funds, rather than lower-cost institutional shares. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed Plaintiffs’ prohibited transactions claim and certain duty-of-prudence allegations for failure to state a claim and did not err in granting partial summary judgment to Defendants on the remaining duty-of-prudence claims. In so doing, the court held as a matter of first impression that to state a claim for a prohibited transaction pursuant to 29 U.S.C. Section 1106(a)(1)(C), it is not enough to allege that a fiduciary caused the plan to compensate a service provider for its services. View "Cunningham v. Cornell University" on Justia Law
In Re: Blue Cross Blue Shield Antitrust Litigation
Subscribers who bought health insurance filed a class action against Blue Cross, alleging that it violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by restricting the member plans’ ability to compete. At issue is whether the district court abused its discretion in approving a settlement agreement for a multi-district antitrust class action against the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and its member plans. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the self-funded claimants were represented by their own counsel and class representatives in the settlement negotiations and received some compensation from the settlement. Although the settlement agreement’s allocation is facially unequal, it is not facially unfair. Further, the court held that the record supports the conclusion that the self-funded claimants and the fully insured claimants had at least potentially adverse interests. The district court did not abuse its discretion in dividing them into subclasses. Moreover, the court found that the district court also correctly applied the percentage-ofthe-fund doctrine. View "In Re: Blue Cross Blue Shield Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law
Matney, et al. v. Barrick Gold of North America, et al.
Appellants Cole Matney and Paul Watts (together, "Matney") participated in an employer-sponsored retirement plan (the Plan). They brought a putative class action suit against Appellees, Barrick Gold of North America, Inc. (Barrick Gold), Barrick Gold’s Board of Directors (Board), and the Barrick U.S. Subsidiaries Benefits Committee (Committee)—for breach of fiduciary duty and failure to monitor fiduciaries under sections 409 and 502 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Matney alleged the Committee breached the fiduciary duty of prudence by offering high-cost funds and charging high fees. He claimed Barrick Gold and the Board were responsible for failing to monitor the Committee’s actions. The district court dismissed the case with prejudice, concluding the first amended complaint did not plausibly allege any breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA. Finding no reversible error in this dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Matney, et al. v. Barrick Gold of North America, et al." on Justia Law
DAVID WIT, ET AL V. UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
United Behavioral Health (“UBH”) appeals from the district court’s judgment finding it liable to classes of Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. Section 1001 et seq. (“ERISA”) Plaintiffs under 29 U.S.C. Sections 1132(a)(1)(B) and (a)(3), as well as several pre- and posttrial orders, including class certification, summary judgment, and a remedies order. UBH contends on appeal that Plaintiffs lack Article III standing and that the district court erred at class certification and trial in several respect. The Ninth Circuit reversed in part. The panel held that Plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring their claims. Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged a concrete injury as to their fiduciary duty claim because UBH’s alleged violation presented a material risk of harm to plaintiffs’ interest in their contractual benefits. Plaintiffs also alleged a concrete injury as to the denial of benefits claim. Further, plaintiffs alleged a particularized injury as to both claims because UBH’s Level of Care Guidelines and Coverage Determination Guidelines for making medical necessity or coverage determinations materially affected each Plaintiff. And Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries were “fairly traceable” to UBH’s conduct. The panel held that the district court did not err in certifying the three classes to pursue the fiduciary duty claim, but the panel reversed the district court’s certification of the denial of benefits classes. The panel held that, on the merits, the district court erred to the extent it determined that the ERISA plans required the Guidelines to be coextensive with generally accepted standards of care. View "DAVID WIT, ET AL V. UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH" 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
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
DAVID WIT, ET AL V. UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
Plaintiffs submitted health plan coverage requests, which United Behavioral Health (“UBH”) denied. Plaintiffs brought claims under ERISA for breach of fiduciary duty and improper denial of benefits. The parties stipulated to a sample class, from which they submitted a sample of health insurance plans. Plaintiffs alleged that the plans provided coverage for treatment consistent with generally accepted standards of case (“GASC”) or were governed by state laws specifying certain criteria for making coverage or medical necessity determinations. Plaintiffs alleged that UBH’s Level of Care Guidelines and Coverage Determination Guidelines for making these determinations were more restrictive than GASC and were also more restrictive than state-mandated criteria. The district court certified three classes, conducted a bench trial, and entered judgment in Plaintiffs’ favor. The district court issued declaratory and injunctive relief, directed the implementation of court-determined claims processing guidelines, ordered “reprocessing” of all class members’ claims in accordance with the new guidelines, and appointed a special master to oversee compliance for ten years. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The panel held that Plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring their breach of fiduciary duty and improper denial of benefits claims. And the district court did not err in certifying three classes to pursue the fiduciary duty claim. However, because Plaintiffs expressly declined to make any showing, or seek a determination of, their entitlement to benefits, permitting Plaintiffs to proceed with their denial of benefits claim under the guise of a “reprocessing” remedy on a class-wide basis violated the Rules Enabling Act. View "DAVID WIT, ET AL V. UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH" on Justia Law
Guenther v. BP Retr Accumulation
BP Corporation North America Inc. (“BP America”) a Defendant-Appellee in this action, acquired Standard Oil of Ohio (“Sohio). BP America converted the Sohio Plan into a new plan called the BP America Retirement Plan (the “ARP”). The ARP was also a defined benefit plan that retained the formula used by the Sohio Plan to calculate its members’ pension distributions. BP America converted the ARP into the BP Retirement Accumulation Plan (the “RAP,” the conversion from the ARP to the RAP as the “Conversion,” and the date of the Conversion as the “Conversion Date”), the other Defendant-Appellee in this action. Plaintiffs-Appellees, two Sohio Legacy Employees, (the “Guenther Plaintiffs”) filed a class action complaint against the RAP and BP America. Four years after the Guenther Plaintiffs filed their original complaint, Movant-Appellant, along with 276 other individuals (the “Press Plaintiffs”) moved to intervene in the Guenther Action “for the purpose of objecting” to the magistrate judge’s recommendation. Press Plaintiffs contend that the certified class in the Guenther Action inadequately represents their interests, and therefore, they have a right to intervene in this case. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling denying the intervention. The court held that the Press Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that their interests diverge from those of the Guenther Plaintiffs in any meaningful way. Further, the Press Plaintiffs did not identify a unique interest of their own, they are unable to specify how a determination in the Guenther Action could have a future detrimental preclusive effect. The court wrote it is satisfied that the Press Plaintiffs will be adequately represented. View "Guenther v. BP Retr Accumulation" on Justia Law
Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co.
Principal Life Insurance Company (Principal) offers a product called the Principal Fixed Income Option (PFIO), a stable value contract, to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Plaintiff on behalf of himself and a class of plan participants who deposited money into the PFIO, sued Principal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), claiming that it (1) breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty by setting a low-interest rate for participants and (2) engaged in a prohibited transaction by using the PFIO contract to make money for itself. The district court granted summary judgment to Principal after concluding that it was not a fiduciary. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Principal was a fiduciary. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Principal on both claims after a bench trial. Plaintiff challenges the court’s judgment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Principal and the participants share an interest because a guaranteed CCR that is too high threatens the long-term sustainability of the guarantees of the PFIO, which is detrimental to the interest of the participants. The question then becomes whether the court clearly erred by finding that Principal set the CCR in the participants’ interests. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the deducts were reasonable and set by Principal in the participants’ interest of paying a reasonable amount for the PFIO’s administration. Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Principal on the prohibited transaction claim because it is exempted from liability for receiving reasonable compensation. View "Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law