Justia U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in ERISA
Jander v. International Business Machines Corp.
The judgment the Second Circuit entered in its initial opinion in this appeal was vacated by the Supreme Court and remanded for reconsideration. The court reinstated the judgment. Plaintiffs, participants in IBM's employee stock option plain filed suit alleging that the plan's fiduciaries breached their duty of prudence under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss; this court reversed and remanded; and then the Supreme Court granted defendants' petition for certiorari, which presented the question whether a plaintiff can state a duty-of-prudence claim based on generalized allegations that the harm of an inevitable disclosure of an alleged fraud generally increases over time. The Supreme Court also granted the government's motion to participate in oral argument as an amicus curiae in support of neither party, so that it could present the views of the Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission. After oral argument, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment and remanded, explaining that defendants' and the government's post-certiorari arguments primarily addressed matters that fell beyond the question presented to the Supreme Court, and that had not been raised before this court. The court held that the arguments raised in the supplemental briefs either were previously considered by this court or were not properly raised. To the extent that the arguments were previously considered, the court will not revisit them. To the extent that they were not properly raised, they have been forfeited, and the court declined to entertain them. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Jander v. International Business Machines Corp." on Justia Law
Sullivan-Mestecky v. Verizon Communications, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit individually and as the beneficiary of the life insurance policy of her mother, Kathleen Sullivan, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), after the denial of Sullivan's life insurance benefits by Verizon and Prudential. The Second Circuit held that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's ERISA section 502(a)(1)(B) claim against both defendants and her section 502(a)(3) claim against Prudential. In this case, the terms limiting Sullivan's death benefits to a percentage of her annual income were accurately stated in the plan and its description, and thus the generous benefits plaintiff seeks never vested under the terms of the plan. However, the court held that the district court erred in dismissing the section 502(a)(3) claim against Verizon, because plaintiff pleaded estoppel as "appropriate equitable relief;" the fiduciary breach is sufficient to support the equitable remedy of surcharge; and reforming the plan to accord with Sullivan's reasonable expectations is an appropriate equitable remedy. Finally, the court rejected Verizon's arguments supporting its denial that it committed a fiduciary breach. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sullivan-Mestecky v. Verizon Communications, Inc." on Justia Law
The National Retirement Fund v. Metz Culinary Management, Inc.
Metz appealed the district court's judgment vacating an arbitration award that held that interest rate assumptions for purposes of withdrawal from a multiemployer pension plan liability are those in effect on the last day of the year preceding the employer's withdrawal. The district court held, however, that section 4213 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) does not require actuaries to calculate withdrawal liability based on interest rate assumptions used prior to an employer's withdrawal from a plan, and that interest rate assumptions must be affirmatively reached and may not roll over automatically from the preceding plan year. The Second Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, holding that interest rate assumptions for withdrawal liability purposes must be determined as of the last day of the year preceding the employer's withdrawal from a multiemployer pension plan. Furthermore, absent any change to the previous plan year's assumption made by the Measurement Date, the interest rate assumption in place from the previous plan year will roll over automatically. Accordingly, the court remanded with directions to enter judgment for Metz and to remand any remaining issues to the arbitrator. View "The National Retirement Fund v. Metz Culinary Management, Inc." on Justia Law
Laurent v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
The Second Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims alleging that the terms of their employee retirement benefits plan violated the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). In a prior appeal, the court affirmed the district court's holding that the plan violated the statue and remanded to the district court for consideration of the appropriate relief. On remand, defendants moved on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), contending that the relief requested by plaintiffs was unavailable as a matter of law. The district court agreed and granted defendants' motion. The court held that section 502(a)(3) authorizes district courts to grant equitable relief ‐‐ including reformation ‐‐ to remedy violations of subsection I of ERISA, even in the absence of mistake, fraud, or other conduct traditionally considered to be inequitable. Furthermore, the district court is authorized to grant plaintiffs' proposed remedy of enforcement of the reformed plan under section 502(a)(1)(B). Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Laurent v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP" on Justia Law
Sacerdote v. Cammack Larhette Advisors, LLC
This case arose from plaintiffs' action against NYU, alleging violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in connection with two retirement plans sponsored by NYU (Sacerdote I). After the district court dismissed most, but not all of the causes of action, plaintiffs filed this action against affiliates of NYU and Cammack, an independent investment management company (Sacerdote II). The district court dismissed all claims against defendants. The Second Circuit dismissed the district court's judgment, holding that the district court erred by determining that Cammack and NYU were in privity such that the rule against duplicate litigation applied to bar recovery against Cammack in Sacerdote II. In this case, Cammack and NYU's interests were not sufficiently identical to support a finding of privity; the bases for liability for NYU and Cammack were not necessarily the same; and it was possible that one party could be found liable and the other not. Cammack and NYU had separate and distinct responsibilities as co-fiduciaries to the plans at issue, and could be found liable for plaintiffs' injuries for separate reasons. Finally, the court held that the representative suit exception to a plaintiff's right to sue each defendant separately did not apply here. View "Sacerdote v. Cammack Larhette Advisors, LLC" on Justia Law
32BJ North Pension Fund v. Nutrition Management Services, Co.
Plaintiffs filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), alleging that NMSC failed to make the required contributions from 2008 to 2015. The Second Circuit vacated the district court's final judgment in favor of plaintiffs. The court clarified, consistent with circuit and Supreme Court precedent, that an employer in an ERISA action for unpaid contributions is bound to the terms of an ERISA plan document (the Trust Agreement in this case) only if the employer objectively manifests an intent to be so bound, as evaluated under ordinary principles of contract interpretation. The court applied these principles here and held that NMSC did not bind itself to the Trust Agreement -- and the interest rate established under its Delinquency Policy -- until NMSC agreed to the Memorandum of Agreement modifying the collective bargaining agreement in 2014. The court also rejected the Fund's alternative argument that applying ERISA‐plan‐based interest provisions is so fundamental to the functioning of a fund that its trustees may unilaterally impose such provisions on a delinquent employer. View "32BJ North Pension Fund v. Nutrition Management Services, Co." on Justia Law
Frommert v. Conkright
In this action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision ordering Xerox and others to recalculate plaintiffs' retirement benefits as a matter of equitable reformation and to pay prejudgment interest at the federal prime rate. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by selecting the new hire approach as an equitable remedy to redress the Plan Administrator's notice violations. The court affirmed the district court's decision to use the prime rate because the district court had broad discretion to grant prejudgment interest and to select a rate; carefully considered all the relevant factors in determining whether prejudgment interest was warranted, and, if so, what the rate should be; and thoroughly explained its reasoning for using the federal prime rate. View "Frommert v. Conkright" on Justia Law
Testa v. Becker
Plaintiff filed suit against the plan administrator for Xerox under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) for denial of benefits and breach of fiduciary duty. The Second Circuit held that plaintiff's denial of benefits claim was untimely and that the administrator, not plaintiff, was entitled to summary judgment on the fiduciary duty claim. The court held that a litigant may not bring a denial‐of‐benefits claim under ERISA when the limitations period is six years and his claim accrued twelve years before he sued. The court also held that Frommert v. Conkright, 433 F.3d 254 (2d Cir. 2006), did not order the plan administrator not to apply the so‐called "phantom account offset" to plan participants who did not bring timely denial of benefits claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for directions to enter judgment for the administrator and the Xerox Plan. View "Testa v. Becker" on Justia Law
Jander v. International
Plaintiffs appealed the district court's dismissal of their action against fiduciaries of IBM's employee stock option plan (ESOP), claiming that defendants violated their duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to manage the ESOP's assets prudently. The Second Circuit reversed the district court's judgment against plaintiffs, holding that plaintiffs plausibly pleaded a duty‐of‐prudence claim even under the stricter "could not have concluded" test used by the district court. In this case, a prudent fiduciary in the Plan defendants' position could not have concluded that corrective disclosure would do more harm than good. View "Jander v. International" on Justia Law
In re: DeRogatis
Plaintiff appealed the district court's summary judgment in favor of the trustees of two union-affiliated employee benefit plans on her claims for relief pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision denying plaintiff's claim under section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA against the Pension Fund for benefits due, and held that the Pension Fund trustees correctly denied plaintiff's request for an augmented survivor benefit following her husband's death. In regard to plaintiff's section 502(a)(3) claim for breach of fiduciary duty, the court rejected the district court's reasoning that a plan administrator cannot be held liable for unintentional misrepresentations made about the plan's operation by its non‐fiduciary, "ministerial" agent. The court nonetheless affirmed the district court's denial of relief under section 502(a)(3) because the Pension Plan's summary plan description (SPD) adequately described the eligibility requirements for the benefits in question and thereby satisfied the trustees' fiduciary duty to provide complete and accurate information to plan participants and beneficiaries. Therefore, the court affirmed as to Case No. 16‐3549‐cv. The court reversed and remanded as to Case No. 16‐977‐cv, holding that there was an open question of material fact concerning whether the Welfare Fund trustees breached their fiduciary duty to provide plan participants with complete and accurate information about their benefits. View "In re: DeRogatis" on Justia Law