Articles Tagged with Supreme Court

The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in Retirement Plans Committee of IBM v. Jander, an ERISA case challenging the prudence of fiduciary decisions with respect to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).  The Court granted certiorari to review whether the Second Circuit correctly applied the Court’s “more harm than good” standard set forth in Fifth Third Bancorp. v. Dudenhoeffer to a claim that fiduciaries, who were corporate insiders with information that the company stock was overvalued, should have made a corrective disclosure before allowing the plan to make continuing investments in that stock.

Of the three ERISA cases that Court is looking at this term, Jander is the most confounding and the argument yesterday did little to clear things up.  This is mostly because the case concerns the meaning and application of Dudenhoeffer, a decision that attempted to describe pleading standards in the hazy terrain where corporate securities obligations end and ERISA fiduciary duties begin.  But the fact that the Petitioners (IBM plan fiduciaries), the government and the plan participant all proposed different standards, only one of which was based on Dudenhoeffer, added to the confusion.

Several Justices expressed some concern that the petitioner’s broadest argument – that corporate insiders who are fiduciaries have no ERISA duties when they learn of problems with the company stock – and the government’s argument that almost any disclosure not required under securities law would be inconsistent with that regime, would require them to scrap Dudenhoeffer.  Perhaps most interestingly, Justice Gorsuch noted that corporate insiders don’t have to serve as fiduciaries and thus the problem presented in the case was, to some extent, self-created.  But he also questioned whether the securities laws might not be the most logical place to look when considering what actions a fiduciary with insider information should take to protect ESOPs.

Kantor & Kantor Partner Elizabeth Hopkins filed an Amicus Brief in the Supreme Court on October 28, 2019 for The Pension Rights Center in support of the Ninth Circuit in Intel Corp. Investment Policy Committee et al. v. Christopher M. Sulyma  The case is about whether workers get six years or three years to sue over ERISA violations.

Please see the brief here:  18-1116bsacPensionRightsCenter

For questions on the handling of your Pension benefits, please do not hesitate to contact Kantor & Kantor for a no-cost consultation at (800) 446-7529 or use our online contact form.

Kantor & Kantor Partner Elizabeth Hopkins filed an Amicus Brief in the Supreme Court on September 18, 2019 for The Pension Rights Center in support of the petitioners in Thole v. U.S. Bank, N.A.  The case is about funding in defined benefit pension plans, constitutional standing, and when participants in these plans may sue to recover plan losses.

Please see the brief here: Thole v. U.S. Bank, N.A. Amicus Brief

For questions on the handling of your Pension benefits, please do not hesitate to contact Kantor & Kantor for a no-cost consultation at (800) 446-7529 or use our online contact form.

 

The Supreme Court agreed Monday, June 10, 2019, to resolve a conflict between the Ninth Circuit and the Sixth Circuit on when ERISA’s three-year statute of limitations begins to run.  The statute provides that a fiduciary breach claim may be brought within six years of a breach unless the plaintiff had “actual knowledge” of the breach, in which case a three-year statute of limitations applies. The Ninth Circuit found in Sulyma v. Intel Corporation Investment Policy Committee, 909 F.3d 1069 (9th Cir., 2018), that the actual knowledge requirement that triggers the running of the three-year statute of limitations does not begin until the participant actually knew about the breach, rather than when the participant can be charged with  implied knowledge based on distribution of plan documents or other notices. The Ninth Circuit recognized that its ruling about the actual acknowledgement requirement conflicts with the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Brown v. Owens Corning Investment Review Committee, 622 F.3d 564 (6th Cir. 2010).  The Brown case sets a much lower bar, holding that the statute begins to run once the participants are given instructions on how to access plan documents. The Brown court stated Congress did not intend “the actual knowledge requirement to excuse willful blindness.” The Ninth Circuit said that the Sixth Circuit standard is not good enough.

The Sulyma case stems from allegations the investment committee selected investments for participant accounts that were unduly risky and that Intel acted imprudently by either disregarding the risks or failing to investigate the risks. Specifically, it was alleged the funds were invested heavily in hedge funds and private equity. The Ninth Circuit determines when the three-year statute of limitations begins to run is performed using a two-prong approach. The Court first isolates and defines the alleged breach and then determines when the plaintiff had actual knowledge of the alleged breach. In a lengthy decision the Court analyzed what it means to have actual knowledge.

The Court reasoned that actual knowledge must be something more than simply knowledge of the underlying transaction, at least in cases where such knowledge does not obviously disclose the breach.  Furthermore, the Court concluded that the exact nature and quantum of knowledge required to trigger the limitations period will vary depending on the nature or the claim. Thus, although the Ninth Circuit acknowledged that participants had been given investment information in several different formats, because Sulyma testified and argued he did not know his retirement was so heavily invested in hedge funds or private equity the Court determined that whether plaintiff had actual knowledge was a question of fact and should not have been decided on summary judgment.

In recent years, UnitedHealth Group has ramped up its practice of recovering supposed overpayments to medical providers on claims of plan participants in one healthcare plan by offsetting these “overpayments” against (and therefore often totally disallowing) payments on the claims of participants in an unrelated plan.  Keep in mind that the participants in the plans normally are still on the hook for any medical bills that the United refuses to pay.  I like to refer to this practice of cross-plan offsetting as robbing Peter to pay Paul’s plan.  Or perhaps given the petition for certiorari filed last week by United in a case brought as a class action by Dr. Louis Peterson seeking to end this practice, I should say robbing Peterson (and his patients) to pay Paul.

In the Peterson case, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision earlier this year agreeing with a trial court that this practice was not allowed under the terms of the governing plans, which expressly allowed such offsetting for provider claims based on patients within the same plan, but said nothing about cross-plan offsets.  Without deciding whether the practice necessarily violates ERISA, as the Department of Labor argued it does in a brief it filed as amicus curiae in the case, the Eighth Circuit noted that, at a minimum, the practice was “in some tension with the requirements of ERISA,” and “pushed the boundaries of what ERISA permits.”  Accordingly, the court concluded that, despite the broad grant of interpretive authority granted to United in the plans, its interpretation of the plan as allowing cross-plan offsets was unreasonable.

United has asked the Supreme Court to review (and reverse) the decision.  In its cert. petition, United asks the Court to resolve two issues (1) whether the Eighth Circuit incorrectly held that its interpretation was “necessarily unreasonable merely because the plan is silent on the matter”; and (2) whether a court is required by established ERISA case law to defer to “an otherwise reasonable plan construction that is lawful under ERISA but, in the court’s view, pushes ERISA’s boundaries.”

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