Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in ERISA
Pacheco v. Honeywell International Inc.
Former employees of Honeywell, who retired before age 65 during the terms of Honeywell's 2007 and 2010 collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), filed a class action alleging that Honeywell's announced plan to terminate early retiree healthcare benefits at the end of 2017 breached the CBAs and violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), because those healthcare benefits vested when each class member retired.The Eighth Circuit agreed with the Sixth Circuit and held that the Supreme Court's decision in CNH Indus. N.V. v. Reese, 138 S. Ct. 761 (2018), was controlling in this case. Under Reese, the court held that plaintiffs' retiree healthcare benefits were not vested as a matter of law. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pacheco v. Honeywell International Inc." on Justia Law
Clemons v. Norton Healthcare Inc. Retirement Plan
In 1991, Norton merged predecessor retirement plans into one Plan governed by ERISA. As of 1997, the Plan included a traditional defined-benefit formula applicable to members of the predecessor plans and a cash-balance formula applicable to all other plans. In 2004, the Plan was amended to end accruals under the defined-benefit formulas and allow further accruals only under the cash-balance benefit formula. The Plan allows disability retirement, “normal” age 65 retirement, late retirement, and early retirement, for participants at least 55 years old with at least 10 years of service. The Plan allows retirees to take benefits in the “Basic Form” or in one of six alternative forms, including a lump-sum payment on the date of retirement. In 2008, the Retirees brought a putative class action, alleging Norton underpaid retirees who took a lump-sum payment. The court certified a class in 2011 and eventually granted the Retirees summary judgment. Damages were not reduced to a sum certain, but the court adopted the Retirees’ calculation formula, awarded fixed-rate pre-judgment interest, and entered final judgment. The Sixth Circuit vacated, finding the Plan ambiguous, with respect to calculation of benefits, and possibly noncompliant with ERISA, with respect to actuarial calculations. The court vacated class certification under Rule 23(b)(1)(A) and (b)(2). The court held that if the Plan clearly gives the administrator “Firestone” deference, interpretation against the draftsman has no place in reviewing the administrator’s decisions. The arbitrary-and-capricious standard stays intact. View "Clemons v. Norton Healthcare Inc. Retirement Plan" on Justia Law
Posted in: Class Action, ERISA, US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Priddy v. Health Care Service Corp.
HCSC is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation that offers Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance through licensed affiliates in five states and contracts with outside affiliates for prescription drug services, claim payments, and other administrative work. HCSC owns or controls its affiliates and places its officers on their boards. HCSC does not disclose the extent of these ties to its insureds. Its policies state that the affiliates pay it rebates, but it does not share those rebates with its customers. Alleging that these arrangements violated Illinois law and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, Priddy and others filed a putative class. The district court certified four classes under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3): employers who purchased HCSC plans for employees in any of the five states served by HCSC; beneficiaries of employer-furnished plans provided by HCSC in any of the five states; individuals who purchased insurance directly from HCSC in any of the five states; and Illinois insureds who were protected by Illinois insurance regulations. The four classes included approximately 10 million people. The Seventh Circuit vacated class certification. It is not clear that HCSC owed many class members any fiduciary duty. Three of the four classes certified include people whom HCSC does not insure and who do not pay it premiums. View "Priddy v. Health Care Service Corp." on Justia Law
Posted in: Class Action, ERISA, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Soehnlen v. Fleet Owners Insurance Fund
Fleet Owners Fund is a multi-employer “welfare benefit plan” under the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, and a “group health plan” under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), 26 U.S.C. 5000A. Superior Dairy contracted with Fleet for employee medical insurance; the Participation Agreement incorporated by reference a 2002 Agreement. In a purported class action, Superior and its employee alleged that, before entering into the Agreement, it received assurances from Fleet Owners and plan trustees, that the plan would comply in all respects with federal law, including ERISA and the ACA. Plaintiffs claim that, notwithstanding the ACA’s statutory requirement that all group health plans eliminate per-participant and per-beneficiary pecuniary caps for both annual and lifetime benefits, the plan maintains such restrictions and that Superior purchased supplemental health insurance benefits to fully cover its employees. Fleet argued that the plan is exempt from such requirements as a “grandfathered” plan. The district court dismissed the seven-count complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring claims under ERISA and ACA, having failed to allege concrete injury, and did not allege specific false statements. View "Soehnlen v. Fleet Owners Insurance Fund" on Justia Law
Durand v. Hanover Ins. Group, Inc.
In 2007, Durand filed an Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461 (ERISA) class action against her former employer and the pension plan it sponsors, challenging the projection rate used by the Plan to calculate the lump-sum payment Durand elected to receive after ending her employment at the Company in 2003. The Plan then used a 401(k)-style investment menu to determine the interest earned by members’ hypothetical accounts. Durand alleged that it impermissibly used the 30-year Treasury bond rate instead of the projected rate of return on her investment selections in the “whipsaw” calculation required under pre-2006 law. The Sixth CIrcuit reversed dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Defendants then answered the complaint and raised defenses, including that the claims of putative class members “who received lump-sum distributions after December 31, 2003” were barred due to an amendment to the Plan that took effect after that date. Plaintiffs argued that the 2004 Amendment was an illegal reduction or “cutback” in benefits. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that the “cutback” claims were time-barred and did not relate back to the “whipsaw” claim asserted in the original class complaint. View "Durand v. Hanover Ins. Group, Inc." on Justia Law
UFCW & Employers Benefit Trust v. Sutter Health
UEBT is a healthcare employee benefits trust governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, and pays healthcare providers directly from its own funds for the services provided to enrollees in its health plans. UEBT contracted with a “network vendor,” Blue Shield, to obtain access to Blue Shield’s provider network at the rates Blue Shield had separately negotiated, and certain administrative services. One of Blue Shield’s preexisting provider contracts was with Sutter, a group of health care providers in Northern California. UEBT sued Sutter, on behalf of a putative class of all California self-funded payors, alleging that Sutter’s contracts with network vendors, such as Blue Shield, contain anticompetitive terms that insulate Sutter from competition and drive up the cost of healthcare. UEBT sought damages, restitution, and injunctive relief under the Cartwright Act (Bus. & Prof. Code 16720) and California’s unfair competition law (section 17200). Sutter moved to compel arbitration, relying on an arbitration clause in the provider contract signed by Sutter and Blue Shield. The trial court denied Sutter’s motion, concluding that UEBT was not bound to arbitrate its claims pursuant to an agreement it had not signed or even seen. The court of appeal affirmed. View "UFCW & Employers Benefit Trust v. Sutter Health" on Justia Law
Posted in: Arbitration & Mediation, California Court of Appeal, Class Action, ERISA, Health Law
Amara v. CIGNA Corp.
Plaintiffs, individual CIGNA Plan participants, filed suit on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, alleging that CIGNA defendants made misleading communications in regards to the terms of the Plan. Subsequently, on remand, the court concluded that the district court acted within the scope of its discretion in denying CIGNA's motion to decertify the plaintiff class; the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the elements of reformation have been satisfied and that the Plan should be reformed to adhere to representations made by the plan administrator; and, in this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting relief to A+B benefits rather than ordering a return to the terms of CIGNA's original retirement plan. View "Amara v. CIGNA Corp." on Justia Law
Merrimon, et al v. Unum Life Insurance Company
Plaintiffs challenged an insurance company's use of "retained asset accounts" (RAAs) as a method of paying life insurance benefits in the ERISA context. They presented the district court with two basic questions: (1) whether the insurer's method of paying death benefits in the form of RAAs constitute self-dealing in plan assets in violation of ERISA section 406(b); and (2) whether this redemption method offended the insurer's duty of loyalty toward the class of beneficiaries in violation of ERISA section 404(a). The district court answered the first question in favor of the insurer and the second in favor of the plaintiff class. The court then awarded class-wide relief totaling more than $12,000,000. Both sides appealed. Upon review, the First Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that the insurer's use of RAAs in this case did not constitute self-dealing in plan assets. However, the Court disagreed with the district court's answer to the second question and held that the insurer's use of RAAs did not breach any duty of loyalty owed by the insurer to the plaintiff class. View "Merrimon, et al v. Unum Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Posted in: Class Action, ERISA, Insurance Law
Stephens, et al. v. US Airways Group, Inc., et al.
Plaintiffs, a group of retired U.S. Airways pilots, filed a class action seeking interest for the period of delay in the payment of their retirement benefits. The district court refused to certify the class. The court reversed and remanded, holding that the class members were not required to exhaust internal remedies before bringing their claims in court because they sought enforcement of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act's (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., substantive guarantees rather than contractual rights. View "Stephens, et al. v. US Airways Group, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Wurtz v. The Rawlings Co.
Plaintiffs initially filed suit in state court seeking to enjoin defendant insurers under New York law from obtaining reimbursement of medical benefits from plaintiffs' tort settlements. Defendants removed to federal court where the district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). The court held that plaintiffs' claims did not satisfy the Supreme Court's test for being subject to complete Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., preemption, which would have conferred federal subject-matter jurisdiction; such jurisdiction exists, however, under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d); therefore, the court reached the merits of the express preemption defense and concluded that N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law 5-335 is saved from express preemption under ERISA section 514, as a law that "regulates insurance;" and therefore, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Wurtz v. The Rawlings Co." on Justia Law