IRS Extends Temporary Relief from “Physical Presence” Requirement Through December 31, 2022

The IRS recently issued Notice 2022-27, providing a six-month extension of the temporary relief from the physical presence requirement for certain plan elections (including spousal consents) required to be witnessed by a plan representative or notary public. Issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS provided initial relief from the physical presence requirement for the period January 1through December 1, 2020, provided initial extended relief through June 30, 2021, and extended relief for a second time through June 30, 2022. Most recently, Notice 2022-27 extends the relief through December 31, 2022.

The temporary relief from the physical presence requirement applies to any participant election witnessed by a notary public of a state that permits remote electronic notarization or by a plan representative, if certain requirements are satisfied. We discussed those requirements in a prior blog post on this topic.

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Stay Tuned – the DOL Regulatory Agenda

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently published its Spring 2022 Regulatory Agenda, and here is a summary of several big ticket items:

ESG & ERISA: Plan sponsors and investment professionals have been waiting for final rules on the permissible use of environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) considerations under ERISA when selecting plan investments and exercising shareholder rights with respect to plan assets. Based on the updated regulatory agenda, the DOL is planning to issue final ESG rules in December 2022.

Fiduciary Rule: Plan advisors and investment professionals have also been awaiting guidance on the DOL’s fiduciary rule re-write. The Trump era “fiduciary rule” is currently in effect and is a combination of a new and expansive definition of fiduciary advice and an exemption – PTE 2020-02 – from the prohibitions of ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for certain conflicts of interest arising from nondiscretionary fiduciary recommendations. However, last year, the Biden administration announced that it is revisiting the definition of fiduciary investment advice and the requirements of various prohibited transaction exemptions. Based on the Agenda, we can expect a new proposed fiduciary rule in December 2022.

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ERISA Litigation Roundup: The End of Firestone?

The Employee and Retiree Access to Justice Act is — yes — another employee benefits bill recently introduced in both the House and Senate (see our other blog post on SECURE 2.0, already passed by the House and which now has a draft bill under review in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee). In addition to seeking to eliminate individual arbitration as a method for resolving benefit denial and breach of fiduciary duty disputes under ERISA, the Employee and Retiree Access to Justice Act also seeks to invalidate discretionary clauses in ERISA-governed benefit plans. The prohibition of such clauses would eliminate deferential judicial review of benefit claim denials in court.

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ERISA Litigation Roundup: Second Circuit Holds Disability Benefit Claim Must Be Fully Determined on Internal Appeal Review Within 45 Days

On June 7, 2022, the Second Circuit decided McQuillin v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co., No. 21-1514, holding that under ERISA and Department of Labor (DOL) regulations governing administrative benefit claims and appeals (29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1), when considering an appeal of a denied disability claim, a plan administrator must make full determination of benefits. In doing so, the Second Circuit rejected the claim administrator’s argument that reversing the claim denial and remanding the claim internally for reevaluation satisfied the regulations — instead, a decision on whether or not benefits would be awarded was required.

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New Stats on Employer Retirement Plans

On June 8, 2022, the Congressional Research Service published “Private-Sector Defined Contribution Pension Plans: An Introduction.” We reviewed the report and wanted to highlight a few key data points. Defined contribution plans include 401(k), 403(b), and profit-sharing plans. The report does not include government employer plans.

Takeaways

Congress continues to introduce bills related to retirement security (see our Blog Post on Secure Act 2.0 and the Employee and Retiree Access to Justice Act). These new bills continue to focus on increasing access to part-time workers, easing the implementation of retirement plans for smaller employers, and encouraging plans to implement automatic enrollment features. Based on the results in this Congressional Research Service report, we can expect continued emphasis on those features. If you’d like to discuss design changes to your defined contribution plan, please contact a Faegre Drinker benefits attorney for assistance.

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IRS Pilots Pre-Examination Compliance Program for Retirement Plans

In its recent June Employee Plans newsletter, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced the launch of a 90-day pre-examination compliance pilot program. Under the program, the IRS will notify a plan sponsor that its retirement plan has been selected for pre-examination. The notification will provide the sponsor with 90 days to review retirement plan documents and operations to determine compliance with current tax law. If the sponsor does not respond within 90 days, the IRS will contact the sponsor to schedule an examination.

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Supreme Court Decides Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. DaVita Inc.

On June 21, 2022, the Supreme Court decided Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. DaVita Inc., No. 20-1641, holding that a group health plan that uniformly provides limited benefits for outpatient dialysis to all plan participants does not violate the Medicare Secondary Payer statute (MSPS).

Individuals enrolled in Marietta Memorial Hospital’s employer-sponsored group health plan (the “Plan”) sought treatment from DaVita for end-stage renal disease (ESRD). After DaVita treated those patients, it submitted claims to the Plan for payment. The Plan paid only a small portion of those claims based on terms in its plan document applicable to all plan participants that purported to limit the reimbursement rates for renal dialysis treatments. DaVita sued the Plan and alleged that the Plans’ reimbursement limitations violated the MSPS.

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Deadline Approaches for Employers to Post Machine-Readable Files on a Public Website

The July 1st deadline is quickly approaching for non-grandfathered group health plans and issuers to publicly disclose, in accordance with the Transparency in Coverage Final Rules, price information in machine-readable files for the plan year beginning on or after January 1, 2022.   The two machine-readable files must show (1) in-network negotiated provider rates for covered items and services and (2) out-of-network allowed amounts and billed charges for covered items and services.

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ERISA Litigation Roundup: Sixth Circuit Holds ERISA § 502(a)(2) Claims May Not Be Arbitrated Absent Plan Consent

On April 27, 2022, the Sixth Circuit decided Hawkins v. Cintas Corporation, No. 21-3156, holding that claims for breach of fiduciary duty under § 502(a)(2) of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), belong to the plan, and plaintiffs asserting such claims for alleged harm to their individual retirement accounts in defined contribution plans may not be compelled to arbitrate those claims absent the plan’s consent.

Hawkins is a putative class action that participants in an ERISA-governed defined-contribution retirement plan filed on behalf of the plan against Cintas Corporation, their former employer and the plan’s sponsor, under ERISA § 502(a)(2). The plaintiffs alleged that Cintas had breached fiduciary duties it owed to them under ERISA in connection with its administration of the plan, causing losses to the plan.

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ERISA Litigation Roundup: Ninth Circuit Partially Reverses Dismissal of Two Proposed Class Actions

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit partially reversed the dismissal of two proposed class actions alleging mismanagement of separate 401(k) plans in violation of ERISA. In Davis v. Salesforce.com, Inc., 2022 WL 105557 (9th Cir. Apr. 8, 2022), participants in 401(k) plan claimed that Salesforce.com, its board of directors, investment committee and executives breached their fiduciary duties by imprudently selecting and retaining relatively high-cost investments and failing to investigate less expensive alternatives, despite the availability of lower-cost options with identical or substantially similar underlying assets. The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint in its entirety, noting that it lacked adequate factual support. Specifically, the district court held that the allegations regarding alternative share classes, without more, were insufficient to state a claim; the complaint improperly attempted to compare passive funds with actively managed funds; and there is no obligation to offer alternatives such as collective investment trusts (CITs), and, in any event, CITs are not meaningful comparators to mutual funds.

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