Split Supreme Court Awards U.S. Bank a Win in ERISA Pension Lawsuit

In a 5-4 decision in Thole v. U.S. Bank N.A., the Supreme Court found that participants in a defined benefit pension plan lacked Article III standing to sue under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) for alleged mismanagement of that plan, finding the plaintiffs suffered no concrete injury that could be redressed by the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs were former employees of U.S. Bank who, having retired as vested participants in its defined benefit plan, had already begun receiving fixed monthly payments.  They filed a class action lawsuit under ERISA in 2013 against the plan sponsor and numerous plan fiduciaries, alleging that defendants breached their fiduciary duties by investing plan funds in the investment managers’ mutual funds, paying excessive management fees, and making imprudent investment decisions that led to $750 million in losses to the plan.  The trial court dismissed the lawsuit after the plan, which was underfunded when the suit was filed, became overfunded when the company contributed $311 million to bring the plan into compliance, which the court found mooted plaintiffs’ claims.  The Eighth Circuit affirmed on the basis that the overfunded nature of the plan removed plaintiffs’ statutory standing under ERISA to sue.

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