Justia U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals 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
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
Haley v. TIAA
Plaintiff alleged that a participant loan program that Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) offered to her retirement plan is a prohibited transaction under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). After ruling that Haley’s suit could proceed against TIAA as a nonfiduciary under ERISA, the district court certified a class of employee benefit plans whose fiduciaries contracted with TIAA to offer loans that were secured by a participant’s retirement savings. TIAA argues that the district court erred when it found that common issues predominated over individual ones without addressing the effect of ERISA’s statutory exemptions on liability classwide and without making any factual findings as to the similarities of the loans. The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s decision holding that the predominance inquiry of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) requires that a district court analyze defenses, and the court did not do so here. Further, because the predominance inquiry of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) requires that a district court analyze defenses, and the court did not do so here, the district court did not analyze the exemptions, it also did not engage with the evidence that TIAA submitted to substantiate the purported variations among the plans. A district court cannot simply “take the plaintiff’s word that no material differences exist.” View "Haley v. TIAA" on Justia Law
New York State Nurses Association Benefits Fund v. The Nyack Hospital
The case concerned the scope of the audit authority of a multi-employer employee benefit fund covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). The New York State Nurses Association Benefit Fund (the “Fund”) sought an audit of the Nyack Hospital’s (the “Hospital’s”) payroll and wage records. The Hospital objected, claiming that the Fund had the authority to inspect only the payroll records of employees the Hospital identified as members of the collective bargaining unit. The district court held that the Fund was entitled to the records of all persons the Hospital identified as registered nurses but not to the records of any other employees. The Second Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The court reversed to the extent the district court granted the Hospital’s cross-motion for summary judgment and denied the Fund’s motion for summary judgment. To the extent the district court granted the Fund’s motion for summary judgment and denied the Hospital’s cross-motion for summary judgment, the court affirmed. The court held that the audit sought by the Fund was authorized by the Trust Agreement and that the Hospital did not present evidence that the audit constituted a breach of the Fund’s fiduciary duty under ERISA. Accordingly, the audit was within the scope of the Fund trustees’ authority under the Supreme Court’s decision in Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Central Transport, Inc., 472 U.S. 559 (1985). View "New York State Nurses Association Benefits Fund v. The Nyack Hospital" on Justia Law
McQuillin v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co.
Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit seeking long-term disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) from Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company. The district court concluded that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust his disability plan’s administrative remedies. Plaintiff asserted that his administrative remedies should have been deemed exhausted because Hartford, in violation of the applicable ERISA regulation, failed to provide a final decision on his benefits within 45 days of his administrative appeal. The Second Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s. The dispositive question on appeal was whether a valid benefit determination on review must determine whether a claimant is entitled to benefits. Based on the regulation’s plain language, structure, and purpose, the court held that it must. The court further held that, because Hartford did not extend the benefit determination period, duty to exhaust had ceased by the 46th day, the day he filed his federal case.The court further explained that the text of the Sec 503-1 supports Plaintiff’s argument that he did not receive a timely benefit determination on review. Finally, Section 503-1’s text, structure, history, and purpose are fully consistent. A “benefit determination on review” must finally decide the claimant’s benefits within 45 days, assuming the absence of special circumstances that require an extension. By the 46th day after his appeal, Hartford had not determined Plaintiff’s benefits nor extended its review time. So, Plaintiff was deemed to have exhausted his plan remedies and could bring suit in federal court. View "McQuillin v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Jacqueline Fisher v. Aetna Life Insurance Company
Plaintiff argued that the insurance contract between the parties was governed by a document provided on January 9, 2014, instead of February 19, 2014; that she is entitled to a judgment based on the insurance company’s miscalculation of her copay; and that even if the February 19 document controls, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 18022(c)(1) (“ACA”), mandates that the insurance company must apply the individual out-of-pocket limit rather than the family out-of-pocket limit; and that the generic-brand cost differential Plaintiff paid for her name-brand medication should count toward her out-of-pocket limit. Plaintiff filed a breach of contract claim under ERISA, and the district court granted Defendant judgment on the breach of contract claims under ERISA. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgments. The court held that the February document governed the relationship between the parties because Plaintiff was on notice as to its terms. Further, Plaintiff is not entitled to a money judgment for her copay because Defendant agreed to pay Plaintiff the copay differential. The court also found that the ACA does not provide that the annual limitation on cost-sharing applies to all individuals regardless of whether the individual is covered under an individual “self-only” plan or is covered by a plan that is other than self-only for plans effective before 2016. Finally, the court held that the ACA nor the February document required Defendant to apply the brand-generic cost differential costs to Plaintiff’s out-of-pocket limit. View "Jacqueline Fisher v. Aetna Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Soto v. Disney Severance Pay Plan
Soto, a former Disney employee, alleged that Disney improperly denied her severance benefits upon her termination for physical illness that rendered her unable to work. Soto, a longtime employee had experienced a severe stroke and other medical problems, which left her unable to work. Disney formally terminated Soto’s employment, paid Soto sick pay, short-term illness benefits, and long-term disability benefits but did not pay her severance benefits. She filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B); (a)(3), alleging that the Plan Administrator improperly determined that she did not experience a qualifying “Layoff” as required for severance benefits.The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her case. Her complaint does not plausibly allege that the interpretation of “Layoff” and resulting denial of severance benefits to Soto were arbitrary and capricious. The Plan Administrator had reasoned bases, relating to taxation, for its interpretation of “Layoff” and consequent denial of severance benefits. The court noted an IRS regulation that defines an “involuntary” “termination of employment” as one arising from “the independent exercise of the unilateral authority of the [employer] to terminate to [employee’s] services, . . . where the [employee] was willing and able to continue performing services.” View "Soto v. Disney Severance Pay Plan" on Justia Law
NY State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc.
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an action brought by the Fund against C&S Wholesale Grocers under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The court held that the district court did not err in dismissing the Fund's evade-or-avoid liability theory; the district court did not err in dismissing the Fund's common control liability; the district court did not err in finding that C&S was not an employer of the Union employees at the Syracuse warehouse; and successor liability can, as a matter of law, apply to withdrawal liability under ERISA. However, in this case, the district court did not err in granting C&S's motion for summary judgment because C&S did not substantially continue Penn Traffic's relevant business, and therefore was not subject to successor liability. View "NY State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc." on Justia Law
Massaro v. Palladino
In this Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA) dispute, the Employer Trustees filed suit alleging that the Union Trustees breached their fiduciary duties under ERISA when they passed, by simple majority, two amendments to the trust agreements governing the Funds (the Trust Agreements). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Employer Trustees and concluded that the Union Trustees had breached their fiduciary duties under Section 404(a)(1)(D), because – under the terms of the Trust Agreements – the amendments were required to be passed by a unanimous vote of the Trustees.Although the Second Circuit agreed with the district court that, under the terms of the trust agreements, the Union Trustees' amendments were required to be passed by a unanimous vote, the court nevertheless concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the Employer Trustees because the Union Trustees were not acting in a fiduciary capacity when they passed those amendments. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment; dismissed the Employer Trustees' cross-appeal and appeals as moot; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Massaro v. Palladino" on Justia Law
Browe v. CTC Corp.
Plaintiffs filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) against a defunct photo‐finishing company and its former CEO, alleging various violations and breaches of fiduciary duties with respect to a deferred compensation plan.The Second Circuit held that the district court correctly denied defendants' invocation of ERISA's three-year statute of limitations for fiduciary claims because defendants failed to prove that all plaintiffs had knowledge of the breaches more than three years prior to the commencement of this suit; defendants waived any reliance on ERISA's six‐year statute of repose by failing to assert it any time prior to their reply brief before the court; the Plan is not exempt from ERISA's funding, fiduciary, and vesting requirements because it was not offered to a qualitatively select group of employees; the district court's decision to limit damages on plaintiffs' fiduciary claims to the Plan's projected balance as of 2004 was error, and damages must be recalculated; the district court erred in failing to assess the scope of CTC's liability, if any, for the claims asserted against it; the CEO is liable for the entire amount of the restoration award, because liability under ERISA is joint and several; although the district court's conclusion that Plaintiff Launderville is liable in contribution is supported by sufficient evidence, that liability is to the CEO, not to the Plan; there is no basis to impose liability on Launderville for her failure to comply with ERISA's reporting requirements; the district court's entry of judgment for defendants on plaintiffs' wrongful denial of benefits claims was error; the district court's order that the restoration award be distributed on a per capita basis to Plan participants risks violating those participants' vested rights and is, in any case, inconsistent with ERISA; and defendants' evidentiary challenge is meritless. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Browe v. CTC Corp." on Justia Law