ERISA Litigation Roundup: Columbia University Settlement: A Reminder of ERISA Litigation Risk

On May 21, 2021, the terms of the proposed ERISA class action settlement in Cates v. The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York were announced. The settlement, which includes a $13 million payment and many non-monetary terms, serves as a reminder for fiduciaries/committees to review their processes for selecting and retaining investment options — and to examine the fees and services of plan providers.

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ERISA Litigation Roundup: Ninth Circuit Holds State IRA Plans Not Preempted by ERISA

In a matter of first impression, the Ninth Circuit affirmed that ERISA does not preempt a California law that created a state-managed retirement program for certain private employers. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program, 2021 WL 1805758 (9th Cir. May 6, 2021).

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ERISA Litigation Roundup: Eastern District of Michigan Weighs in on Allegations of COBRA Notice Violations

On May 4, 2021, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss in a class action lawsuit regarding the adequate notice of the right to continued insurance coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA). The decision follows a blitz of class action lawsuits alleging deficient COBRA notices and underscores the importance of careful review by employers.

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ERISA Litigation Roundup: Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of ERISA Stock-Drop Suit

On April 19, 2021, in Wilson v. Craver, No. 18-56139, 2021 WL 1523253 (9th Cir. Apr. 19, 2021), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an ERISA stock-drop lawsuit brought against fiduciaries of Edison International’s employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), holding that the plaintiff failed to meet the “more harm than good” pleading standard set forth in Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, 573 U.S. 409, 428 (2014).

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Supreme Court Decision Caps Big Week in Litigation for Pharmacy Benefit Managers

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision on Thursday of last week that will impact state-level regulation of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) by holding that an Arkansas law regulating PBMs was not preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The decision capped off a busy week in litigation for PBMs as on Monday the Second Circuit held that a business transaction between a PBM and an insurer was not a fiduciary act under ERISA. Although the cases involve distinct issues, they provide some clarity for PBMs on the interplay between business decisions and litigation risks, and some expectation for future regulation at the state-level.

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Plan Sponsor and Plan Administrator Escape 401(k) Plan Cybertheft Suit, But Recordkeeper Remains

An Illinois district court issued a split decision in a case involving the cybertheft of retirement plan assets, allowing the plan administrator and plan sponsor to be dismissed, but requiring the recordkeeper to defend allegations that it breached its fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Bartnett v. Abbott Laboratories, et. al. (N.D. Illinois, Case No. 1:20-cv-02127) is one of several recent lawsuits filed against plan sponsors and recordkeepers for allowing cyber-thieves to pilfer large distributions from participants’ retirement plan accounts.

Heide Bartnett, a former employee of Abbott Laboratories (Abbott) and participant in Abbott’s 401(k) plan, alleges that a hacker accessed her 401(k) account online, changed the password, added a new bank account and requested a $245,000 distribution from the 401(k) plan’s recordkeeper, Alight Solutions LLC (Alight) to be deposited into the newly added account. The imposter also called Alight several times to ask questions about the distribution.

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Federal Courts Continue to Dismiss ERISA Stock-Drop Claims Post-Jander

Ever since the Supreme Court’s decision in Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, 573 U.S. 409 (2014), plaintiffs’ attorneys have been trying to crack the code for pleading an ERISA duty-of-prudence claim against fiduciaries of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) following a drop in the company’s stock price. Those attempts have been largely unsuccessful, with the notable exception of Jander v. Retirement Plans Committee of IBM, 910 F.3d 620 (2d Cir. 2018), vacated and remanded, 140 S. Ct. 592, reinstated, 962 F.3d 85 (2d Cir. 2020). When the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Jander, many ERISA lawyers expected the Court to clarify how a plaintiff could satisfy the Dudenhoeffer standard while still preventing meritless stock-drop claims. But as it often does, the Supreme Court ducked the issue and remanded the case without addressing the merits.

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Tenth Circuit Interpretation of ERISA Notice Requirement Impacts Plan Administrator’s Right to Deferential Standard of Review

When an ERISA plan delegates authority to the plan administrator to interpret the plan documents for benefit determinations, the plan administrator typically is entitled to a deferential standard of judicial review, and courts will look for abuse of discretion rather than impose a de novo standard of review. In Lyn M. v. Premera Blue Cross, – F.3d –, 2020 WL 4249129 (10th Cir. Jul 24, 2020), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit limited the deferential standard of review, holding that a de novo review applied when the plan administrator did not adequately disclose to the plan participants the instrument delegating discretionary authority to the plan administrator.

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