Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in ERISA
by
The case involves plaintiffs Nancy Mator and Robert Mator, who are participants in the Wesco Distribution, Inc. Retirement Savings Plan. They sued Wesco Distribution, Inc., its fiduciaries, and the Plan, alleging that they violated fiduciary duties imposed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) by paying excessive recordkeeping fees and failing to monitor the Plan. The District Court dismissed the complaint with prejudice.The plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. They argued that the District Court erred in dismissing their complaint, which alleged that Wesco breached its fiduciary duties under ERISA by causing the Plan to pay excessive recordkeeping fees, offering retail-class shares of mutual funds, and failing to monitor those responsible for the Plan.The Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs. It found that the plaintiffs' allegations were sufficient to state a claim for breach of fiduciary duty. The Court noted that the plaintiffs provided specific plan comparators and plausibly alleged that the services purchased were sufficiently similar to render the comparisons valid. The Court also found that the plaintiffs adequately alleged a fiduciary breach based on the Plan’s offerings of retail-class mutual fund shares.The Court of Appeals vacated the District Court's dismissal of the complaint and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Mator v. Wesco Distribution Inc" on Justia Law

by
The owner and CEO of Southern Pines (Pat) recruited Kairys as Vice President of Sales to grow the company’s cryogenic trucking services. Soon after he started the job, Kairys required hip replacement surgery. Kairys had surgery and missed seven days of work. Southern was self-insured. Kairys’s surgery caused its health insurance costs to rise markedly. According to Kairys, after he returned to work, Pat’s brother (the VP) told him to “lay low” because Pat was upset. Four months later, Pat fired Kairys, claiming that Southern had “maxed out” its sales potential in cryogenic trucking. Weeks later, Souther hired a part-time worker in a hybrid role that included work that had been done by Kairys.Kairys sued, alleging discrimination and retaliation, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, and state laws. A jury rejected Kairys’s ADA and ADEA claims and returned an advisory verdict for Southern on the ERISA claim.The district court independently considered the ERISA claim and found that Kairys had proved retaliation for using ERISA-protected benefits and interfered with his right to future benefits. The court awarded Kairys $67,500 in front pay and $111, 981.79 in attorney fees. The Third Circuit affirmed. The judgment for Kairys on the ERISA claim was not inconsistent with the jury’s verdict on the other claims and was supported by sufficient evidence. View "Kairys v. Southern Pines Trucking, Inc" on Justia Law

by
Berkelhammer and Ruiz participated in the ADP TotalSource Retirement Savings Plan, an investment portfolio managed by NFP. They filed suit under section 502(a)(2) of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132, for their own losses and derivatively on behalf of the Plan. The Plan’s contract with NFP contained an agreement to arbitrate disputes between the two entities. Berkelhammer and Ruiz argued that since they did not personally agree to arbitrate, the arbitration provision did not reach their claims. The district court disagreed, holding that Berkelhammer and Ruiz stand in the Plan’s contractual shoes and must accept the terms of the Plan’s contract.The Third Circuit affirmed. Civil actions under section 502(a)(2) “for breach of fiduciary duty [are] brought in a representative capacity on behalf of the plan as a whole” to “protect contractually defined benefits.” Because the plaintiffs’ claims belong to the Plan, the Plan’s consent to arbitrate controls. The presence or absence of the individual claimants’ consent to arbitration is irrelevant. View "Berkelhammer v. ADP TotalSource Group Inc." on Justia Law

by
Henry participated in an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) sponsored by his employer. After the ESOP purchased stock at what Henry believed was an inflated price, Henry filed a lawsuit against the plan’s trustee and executives of his employer, alleging that the defendants breached fiduciary duties to the ESOP imposed by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, and engaged in transactions prohibited by ERISA. The defendants argued that an arbitration provision, added to the ESOP’s plan documents after Henry joined the ESOP, barred Henry from pursuing his claims in federal court. The district court denied their motion to dismiss, reasoning that all parties to an arbitration agreement must manifest assent to the agreement, and Henry did not manifest his assent to the addition of an arbitration provision to the ESOP plan document.The Third Circuit affirmed, first confirming its jurisdiction. The motion to dismiss was effectively a motion to compel arbitration, 9 U.S.C. 16(a) provides appellate jurisdiction to review the denial of that motion. The class action waiver (and, by extension, the arbitration provision as a whole) is not enforceable because it requires him to waive statutory rights and remedies guaranteed by ERISA. View "Henry v. Wilmington Trust NA" on Justia Law

by
Johnson & Johnson's Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is an investment option within its retirement savings plans. The ESOP invests solely in J&J stock, which declined in price following news reports accusing J&J of concealing that its baby powder was contaminated with asbestos. J&J denied that its product was contaminated and that it had concealed anything about the product. J&J employees who participated in the ESOP alleged that the ESOP’s administrators, senior officers of J&J, violated their fiduciary duties of prudence under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1002-1003. The Supreme Court has held that a plaintiff bringing such a claim must plausibly allege “an alternative action that the defendant could have taken" consistent with the securities laws, and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed the proposed alternative as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. The J&J plaintiffs proposed that the defendants could have used their corporate powers to make public disclosures to correct J&J’s artificially high stock price earlier or that the fiduciaries could have stopped investing in J&J stock and held all ESOP contributions as cash.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. A reasonable fiduciary in these circumstances could readily view corrective disclosures or cash holdings as being likely to do the ESOP more harm than good, given the uncertainty about J&J’s future liabilities and the future movement of its stock price. View "Perrone v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: ERISA, Securities Law
by
The Universal Health Services Retirement Savings Plan is a defined contribution retirement plan. Qualified employees can participate and invest a portion of their paycheck in selected investment options, chosen and ratified by the UHS Retirement Plans Investment Committee, which is appointed and overseen by Universal. Named plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and all other Plan participants, sued Universal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(2)3 and 1109, alleging that Universal breached its fiduciary duty by including the Fidelity Freedom Fund suite in the plan, charging excessive record-keeping and administrative fees, and employing a flawed process for selecting and monitoring the Plan’s investment options, resulting in the selection of expensive investment options instead of readily-available lower-cost alternatives. They also alleged certain Universal defendants breached their fiduciary duty by failing to monitor the Committee.The Third Circuit affirmed class certification, rejecting an argument that the class did not satisfy the typicality requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a), given that the class representatives did not invest in each of the Plan’s available investment options. Because the class representatives allege actions or a course of conduct by ERISA fiduciaries that affected multiple funds in the same way, their claims are typical of those of the class. View "Boley v. Universal Health Services Inc" on Justia Law

Posted in: Class Action, ERISA
by
Supor, a construction contractor, got a job on New Jersey’s American Dream Project, a large retail development, and agreed to use truck drivers exclusively from one union and to contribute to the union drivers’ multiemployer pension fund. The project stalled. Supor stopped working with the union drivers and pulled out of the fund. The fund demanded $766,878, more than twice what Supor had earned on the project, as a withdrawal penalty for ending its pension payments without covering its share, citing the 1980 Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA), amending ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1381. Under the MPPAA, employers who pull out early must pay a “withdrawal liability” based on unfunded vested benefits. Supor claimed the union had promised that it would not have to pay any penalty. The Fund argued that the statute requires “employer[s]” to arbitrate such disputes. Supor argued that it was not an employer under the Act.The district court sent the parties to arbitration, finding that an “employer” includes any entity obligated to contribute to a pension plan either as a direct employer or in the interest of an employer of the plan’s participants. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding the definition plausible, protective of the statutory scheme, and supported by three decades of consensus. View "J Supor & Son Trucking & Rigging Co., Inc. v. Trucking Employees of North Jersey Welfare Fund" on Justia Law

by
A plan participant sued under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B), claiming that an insurance-company fiduciary wrongfully terminated his benefits. The participant enrolled in his former employer’s welfare benefit plan, which provided long-term disability and life insurance benefits through group insurance policies. When his health deteriorated and he could no longer do his job, the participant claimed benefits. The insurance company, which funded and administered those policies, authorized benefits. Its in-house medical professionals reaffirmed that conclusion for two years. Then, with no recent change to the participant’s medical condition, the company used a third-party vendor to retain an outside physician to evaluate the participant. After an in-person examination, that physician concluded that the participant was not totally disabled. The company terminated benefits. The participant administratively appealed, and the cycle repeated. The company’s multiple requests for additional outside medical reviews were irregular in their timing and prompting.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the participant. The insurance company performed two functions that are in financial tension: it determined eligibility for benefits and funded benefits. That creates a structural conflict of interest, which, combined with significant deviation from normal eligibility-review processes, influenced its fiduciary decision-making. The company abused its discretion in terminating the participant’s benefits. The court properly ordered their retroactive reinstatement. View "Noga v. Fulton Financial Corp Employee Benefit Plan" on Justia Law

Posted in: ERISA
by
The plaintiffs are participants in the Allergan Savings and Investment Plan, which provides various investment options, including an employee stock ownership feature for buying Allergan stock. According to the plaintiffs, the defendants were Plan fiduciaries and owed them commensurate duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). They claim that, although the public was unaware, the defendants knew or should have known that, before the divestiture of its generic-drug business, Allergan had conspired with other generic-drug manufacturers to fix prices, thereby artificially boosting its financial performance and its stock price. The plaintiffs cited inquiries from members of Congress and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, seeking information about large price increases in certain generic drugs. The plaintiffs do not allege that Allergan was ever charged in connection with the investigation but claim that the defendants’ failure to remove Allergan stock as a Plan investment option or otherwise take action to protect Plan participants, violated ERISA.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Even viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the well-pled factual allegations fail to support a plausible inference that Allergan conspired with competitors to fix prices. Because all of the plaintiffs’ causes of action ultimately rest on the premise that the defendants knew or should have known about that supposed illegal conduct, the absence of allegations sufficient to support the existence of it is fatal to each of their claims. View "In re: Allergan ERISA Litigation" on Justia Law

by
J.L. and D.W. were covered by employer-sponsored Aetna insurance plans that provided out-of-network benefits only in cases of “Urgent Care or a Medical Emergency” (J.L.) or not at all (D.W.). J.L. needed bilateral breast reconstruction surgery and there were no in-network physicians available to perform the procedure. D.W. required facial reanimation surgery—a niche procedure performed by only a few U.S. surgeons. Both were referred for treatment to the Plastic Surgery Center, an out-of-network New Jersey medical practice. The Center negotiated with Aetna, which agreed to pay a “reasonable amount.” The Center billed $292,742 for J.L.’s services, Aetna paid only $95,534.04. Of the $420,750 the Center billed for D.W.’s services, Aetna paid only $40,230.32.The district court dismissed common law breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and unjust enrichment claims, holding that section 514(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1000, expressly preempted all claims. The Third Circuit reversed as the breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims, which do not require impermissible “reference to” ERISA plans. The claims, as pleaded, plausibly seek to enforce obligations independent of the plan and do not require interpretation or construction of ERISA plans. The claims plausibly arise out of a relationship that ERISA did not intend to govern. View "Plastic Surgery Center, P.A. v. Aetna Life Insurance Co" on Justia Law