Strict Construction: Seventh Circuit Affirms Written Pension Obligations

On March 22, 2024, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a ruling in Bulk Transp. Corp. v. Teamsters Union No. 142 Pension Fund, ordering the Teamsters Union No. 142 Pension Fund (the “Fund”) to repay Bulk Transp. Corp. (“Bulk Transport”) $2.3 million in withdrawal liability it had erroneously assessed upon Bulk Transport.

Bulk Transport and the Fund had a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) from 2003 to 2006. The CBA included a Construction Agreement and a Steel Mill Addendum. In 2004, Bulk Transport signed a contract for LISCO work – a term used by the parties to describe work hauling commodities. The LISCO work was not explicitly covered by the CBA, but Bulk Transport made contributions for the work using the wage rated and pension terms of the Addendum because the Union threatened to strike otherwise. In 2005, Bulk Transport stopped performing the LISCO work and subsequently stopped making contributions to the Fund for the employees who were performing that type of work. The Fund assessed withdrawal liability on Bulk Transport. Bulk Transport paid the withdrawal liability but requested arbitration.

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IRS Announces 2024 Retirement Plan Limits

The IRS recently announced the 2024 cost-of-living adjustments to various benefit and contribution limits applicable to retirement plans. The IRS modestly increased the applicable limits for 2024. The following limits apply to retirement plans in 2024:

  • The limit on elective deferrals under 401(k), 403(b), and eligible 457(b) plans increased to $23,000.
  • The limit on additional catch-up contributions by participants aged 50 or older remains at $7,500. This means that the maximum amount of elective deferral contributions for those participants in 2024 is $30,500.
  • The Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) Section 415 annual addition limit is increased to $69,000 for 401(k) and other defined contribution plans, and the annual benefit limit is increased to $275,000 for defined benefit plans.
  • The limit on the annual compensation that can be taken into account by qualified plans under Code Section 417 is increased to $345,000.
  • The dollar level threshold for becoming a highly compensated employee under Code Section 414(q) increased to $155,000 (which, under the look-back rule, applies to HCE determinations in 2025 based on compensation paid in 2024).
  • The dollar level threshold for becoming a “key employee” in a top-heavy plan under Code Section 416(i)(1) is increased to $220,000.

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You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too

On July 7, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama issued a ruling in Perfection Bakeries Inc. v. Retail Wholesale & Dep’t Store Int’l Union & Indus. Pension Fund, ordering Perfection Bakery, Inc. (Perfection Bakery) to pay the Retail Wholesale and Department Store International Union and Industry Pension Fund (the Fund) withdrawal liability in the amount of $15.6 million.

The court affirmed the previously issued arbitrator’s decision regarding the amount of withdrawal liability Perfection Bakery owed the Fund for its 2018 complete withdrawal. Perfection Bakery argued that the partial withdrawal liability it had paid as a result of its 2016 partial withdrawal should count towards the 2018 total withdrawal liability to reduce the total liability overhead cost. Perfection Bakery argued that the Fund, by not doing so, had misinterpreted the applicable law governing withdrawal liability.

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Use of Forfeitures in Qualified Retirement Plans

On February 27, 2023, the IRS and the Department of Treasury published proposed regulations regarding the use of forfeitures in qualified retirement plans. If finalized, the proposed rule will be effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2024. However, plans may rely on the proposed regulations now.

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New Kids on the Block: IRS Creates Determination Letter Program for Individually Designed 403(b) Plans

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that beginning June 1, 2023, it will accept determination letter applications for individually designed 403(b) retirement plans. As background, 403(b) plans are a distinct type of retirement plan for employees of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations and public schools (including colleges and universities). Despite the formal distinction, though, in many respects modern 403(b) plans often resemble 401(k) plans.

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Relief All Around: IRS Expands Required Plan Amendment Deadline Extensions

On September 26, 2022, the IRS published Notice 2022-45, extending the deadline for required retirement plan amendments associated with qualifying coronavirus-related and disaster-relief distributions under Section 2202 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and Section 302 of Title III of the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 (Relief Act).

Notice 2022-45 follows Notice 2022-33, released in August, which extended the deadline for plan amendments under Section 2203 the CARES Act, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (SECURE Act), and Section 104 of the Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 (Miners Act). Information on Notice 2022-33 can be found here.

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ERISA Litigation Roundup: Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t

A string of ERISA lawsuits has emerged in recent weeks against companies who offer BlackRock Target-Date Funds (“TDFs”) as 401k investment options to their employees. The lawsuits allege the companies, in their capacities as plan sponsors, breached their fiduciary duty by choosing the low fee investment options offered by BlackRock Inc., despite their funds’ underperformance. This new litigation sparks concern amongst 401k plan sponsors who may now have to worry about lawsuits involving investment fees from all sides-for choosing the high fee options and for choosing the low fee options.

The lawsuits focus on the LifePath Index Funds of BlackRock, a suite of 10 target-date funds.  TDFs have increased in popularity over the past couple of years because they offer participants a lower fee but managed investment option based on target retirement years. Although BlackRock isn’t a party to the litigation, these lawsuits shine a spotlight on the performance of these funds.

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