Recently, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a plaintiff was required to request attorneys’ fees during an arbitration of an ERISA claims dispute. Having failed to do so, the plaintiff could not subsequently seek a fee award from the district court. The Sixth Circuit held that because the parties were obligated to arbitrate their ERISA disputes, the court’s jurisdiction was limited, and the parties were obligated to raise any remedy issues during the arbitration.
The Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in Bafford v. Northrop Grumman (April 15, 2021) affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty claims under ERISA but vacated the district court’s holding that state-law professional and negligent misrepresentation claims were preempted.
Northrop Grumman (Northrup), sponsor of the ERISA-governed retirement plan at issue, delegated administration of the plan to an administrative committee (the Committee). The Committee, in turn, contracted with a record keeper to provide outside administrative services. One of the services offered by the record keeper was an online benefits portal to assist plan participants in estimating pension benefits.
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The No Surprises Act (the “NSA”), which was signed into law at the end of 2020 as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, is designed to protect consumers from unexpected medical bills. The NSA generally applies to group health plans, healthcare providers, and health insurance issuers. The NSA is expected to have significant and far-reaching impacts on the health industry, so it is imperative that group health plan sponsors take steps to implement regulatory guidance on the NSA as it is issued.
Multiemployer pension plans are collectively bargained defined-benefit employee benefit plans that are funded by several unrelated employers for the benefit of unionized employees. In recent years, the crisis of significantly underfunded multiemployer plans has continued to grow. In response, Congress enacted the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which was signed into law on March 11, 2021. ARPA amended ERISA to establish a new program within the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) to offer “special financial assistance” (SFA) to multiemployer plans in danger of becoming insolvent; in contrast to other assistance offered by the PBGC, plans are not required to repay the SFA.
ARPA directed the PBGC to issue regulations or other guidance to prescribe the application requirements for SFA payments and for how funds are to be invested and to impose conditions on plans that receive SFA payments. On July 9, 2021, the PBGC issued this guidance in the form of interim regulations.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a challenge to the dismissal of an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) 401(k) excessive fee case. The case involves a question about whether jury trials are appropriate in ERISA cases, but also a question about what an ERISA lawsuit must plead in order to survive a motion to dismiss, particularly when the lawsuit brings a claim for breach of fiduciary duty in managing a 401(k) plan’s fees and investment options. The 401(k) community is watching this case closely, and the employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) community also should pay close attention.
The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-40, providing a one-year extension through June 30, 2022, 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 beginning January 1, 2020 and ending December 1, 2020, and then provided initial extended relief through June 30, 2021.