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ERISA Watch – October 30, 2014

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Your reliable source for summaries of recent ERISA decisions

Below is Kantor & Kantor LLP’s summary of this past week’s notable ERISA decisions.

Second Circuit

Claims Related to Conversion of Pension Plan to Cash Balance Plan Brought 14 Years After Conversion Are Time-Barred

In Pirro v. Nat’l Grid, No. 14-1428, __ Fed.Appx___, 2014 WL 5438107 (2d Cir. Oct. 28, 2014), the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of the Plaintiffs-Appellants’ complaint involving Defendant Niagara Mohawk’s conversion of its employee pension plan from a final pay plan to a cash balance plan. Fourteen years after the conversion, the plaintiffs initiated this action by filing a complaint alleging that they were not provided adequate notice of the conversion and that the documents they received regarding the conversion misrepresented the new plan and caused them to remain employed by Niagara Mohawk rather than seek alternate employment. The court found that the plaintiffs’ breach-of-fiduciary-duty claims are time-barred by the six-year limitations period set forth in ERISA § 413. The court also found that the plaintiffs’ claims did not fall under § 413’s exception for cases of “fraud or concealment” because documents distributed to plan participants regarding the conversion acknowledged that the rate at which benefits were earned under the cash balance plan could be smaller than under the prior plan. Plaintiffs also alleged that the defendants failed to properly notify them in advance of the plan conversion as required by ERISA § 204(h), 29 U.S.C. § 1054(h). The court determined that whether the statute of limitations applicable to the § 204(h) notice claims is the six-year limitations period set forth in ERISA § 413 or the six-year limitations period for breach of contract claims, Plaintiffs’ claims are time-barred. At the latest, the statute of limitations began to run when the SPD was distributed to plan participants in 2000. Finally, the court found that the plaintiffs’ common-law breach of contract and fraud claims related to the allegations of inadequate notice and mischaracterization of the new plan are preempted by ERISA § 514 because they relate to the defendants’ administration of an employee benefit plan.

Fifth Circuit

Denial of Accidental Death Benefits Affirmed Where Evidence Supported that Death Was Result of Suicide Attempt. In Rice v. ReliaStar Life Ins. Co., No. 13-30639, __F.3d___, 2014 WL 5431994 (5th Cir. Oct. 27, 2014), the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for ReliaStar on the plaintiffs’ claim that ReliaStar improperly denied them accidental death benefits. The plaintiff’s argued that: 1) under ERISA, there is a federal common law presumption in favor of accidental death; 2) because ReliaStar both pays death benefits and evaluates claims for those benefits, there was an inherent conflict of interest that the district court failed to consider; 3) the district court improperly deferred to ReliaStar’s factual determinations. The court declined to decide whether there is a federal common law presumption in favor of accidental death, because even if there were, it would affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment for ReliaStar. ReliaStar relied on an administrative record that supported its finding that Rice’s death was not accidental. The administrative record contained evidence that Rice was suicidal and had been drinking heavily on the day he was shot. Rice took eleven prescription pills while drinking, and told the bartender at the bar where he had been drinking that he left his pills behind because “it’s over.” Rice was also heard revving the engine in his truck while the garage was closed, suggesting he may have been trying to kill himself through carbon monoxide poisoning. Further, Rice approached police officers with a loaded weapon even after the officers told him to put his gun down and told the officers “I want to commit suicide.” The sheriff’s investigation committee found a note Rice left his sister that appeared to be a suicide note. Because the administrative record was replete with factual evidence that ReliaStar relied on in determining that Rice’s death was not accidental, the conflict of interest factor was not significant.

Sixth Circuit

No Cause of Action against Multiple-Employer Pension Plan for Increasing Liabilities of the Plan without Authorization from the Participating Councils. In Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, Inc. v. Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., 13-6347, __F.3d___, 2014 WL 5369415 (6th Cir. Oct. 23, 2014), the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, Inc. (“GSMT”) sued Girl Scouts of the United States of America (“GSUSA”), the Sponsor and Administrator of the National Girl Scout Councils Retirement Plan (the “Plan”), a multiple-employer pension plan, for increasing the liabilities of the Plan unilaterally and without authorization. The first principal claim sought a declaratory judgment that (a) GSMT is not obligated to continue to participate in the Plan in perpetuity, and may withdraw from the Plan; (b) GSUSA is required to participate in a spin-off of Plan assets and liabilities attributable to GSMT’s employees; (c) GSUSA’s unauthorized amendments to the Plan are not binding on GSMT; and (d) GSUSA is required to indemnify GSMT for any liability resulting from a distress termination of the Plan. The other principal claims requested an accounting of the financial condition of the Plan and prayed for injunctive relief restraining GSUSA from collecting or seeking to enforce contributions from GSMT to be used for new Plan participants or Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Plan (an amendment to the Plan that permits participants to subsidize and accelerate eligibility for their pensions, which allegedly caused, in conjunction with a “realignment,” GSMT to incur massive new liabilities). In the alternative, GSMT sought a declaratory judgment that GSMT’s grant of authority to GSUSA was ultra vires (beyond powers) in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 48-53-104 and therefore void.

The district court dismissed the principal claims, finding the ERISA and state common law claims preempted and declining to create a cause of action under federal common law. The district court also dismissed the alternative claim as preempted and for insufficient pleading. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court for the reasons set forth below.

ERISA Claims

ERISA permits participants, beneficiaries, and fiduciaries to pursue claims concerning employee benefits and rights. It also permits fiduciaries, contributing sponsors, members of contributing sponsor’s controlled groups, participants, and beneficiaries to bring some claims regarding withdrawal from or termination of single-employer plans. For multiemployer plans, employers are permitted to bring some claims based on withdrawal from or termination of pension plans. As an employer in a multiple-employer plan, GSMT conceded that it has no valid cause of action under ERISA, except when that employer may be considered an ERISA plan fiduciary, which GSMT did not allege. Accordingly, the court found that there is no jurisdiction for GSMT to pursue claims under ERISA.

State Law Claims

ERISA specifically provides for remedies for breaches of contract and fiduciary duties, so any state law claim that granted relief for these breaches would duplicate, supplement, or supplant the ERISA civil remedies. Further, claims for breaches of contract and fiduciary duties under the Plan necessarily relate to the ERISA benefit plan. Accordingly, GSMT has no recourse under ERISA or state common law.

Federal Common Law Claims

The court noted that the Supreme Court has made clear that federal courts are to develop a “federal common law of rights and obligations under ERISA-regulated plans” to fill the interstices of the statute. Where ERISA does not provide for a particular cause of action, the Supreme Court permits state law claims to be repackaged and saved as claims arising under federal common law. However, federal common law is developed under ERISA only in those instances in which ERISA is silent or ambiguous. GSMT contended that because ERISA fails to address an employer’s claims of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duties under a multiple-employer plan and parallel state law claims are preempted, federal courts are required to apply federal common law.

The court explained that it limits the circumstances under which a court can create federal common law to: 1) instances in which ERISA is silent or ambiguous; 2) where there is an awkward gap in the statutory scheme; or 3) where it may be said that federal common law is essential to the promotion of fundamental ERISA policies. The court found that GSMT’s claims-that GSUSA’s amendments to the Plan without GSMT’s consent breached GSUSA’s contractual obligations under the Agreement establishing that GSUSA is subject at all times to GSMT’s instructions, and thereby also breached its fiduciary duties, and that GSUSA breached the contract by refusing to allow GSMT to withdraw from the Plan and form a spinoff benefit plan-do not fall within these three enumerated circumstances.

The court found that ERISA is not silent as to breach of contract claims. Where ERISA allows for recovery on an issue under some but not all circumstances, ERISA is not silent on that issue. The court also found that ERISA does not contain an awkward statutory gap within which the contract claims fall. GSMT’s claims fall within the purview of § 502. Courts construe the list as exclusive because Congress intended to limit the parties who could maintain actions pursuant to § 502. When claims fall under § 502, but a party has no right to sue under that provision, the claim cannot be reasserted as a separate claim arising under federal common law. The court reasoned that it is prohibited from adding employers of multiple-employer plans to the list of those parties authorized to bring civil remedies under § 502. The court also reasoned that it is constrained from identifying and remedying the failure of ERISA to account for the unique status of employers of multiple-employer plans.

Fiduciary Claims

ERISA explicitly authorizes suits against fiduciaries and plan administrators to remedy statutory violations, including breaches of fiduciary duty. The fiduciary duty claims here do not arise out of ERISA’s statutory scheme regulating fiduciary conduct; the claims arise under the Agreement, which establishes that GSUSA, as GSMT’s agent, is subject at all times to GSMT’s instructions. According to GSMT, these are contractual fiduciary duties, not ERISA fiduciary duties, and ERISA is silent on contractual fiduciary duties. Deprived of its status as a plan document, the Agreement would have no authority to impose additional obligations to an ERISA plan, and federal courts may not apply common law theories to alter the express terms of written benefit plans. Therefore, if the court divorced the Agreement from the Plan, such that the fiduciary duties provided in the Agreement are distinct from the Plan, then the fiduciary duty provisions of the Agreement would be subsidiary to and preempted by the ERISA fiduciary duties. Further, by virtue of its preemptive authority, ERISA subsumes the fiduciary obligations imposed by the Agreement.

State Statutory Claim

In the alternative, GSMT sought relief under Tenn.Code Ann. § 48-53-104(c), seeking a declaration that its grant of authority to GSUSA was ultra vires. The court found that the district court properly dismissed this count of the complaint for insufficient pleadings. GSMT presented no arguments or factual support in the complaint for the contention that its grant of authority to GSUSA was ultra vires other than the bare assertion that it is. In essence, GSMT invited the court to infer from the fact that Tenn. Code Ann. § 48-62-102 existed at the time it submitted its complaint, that GSMT based its claim for declaratory judgment on its failure to comply with that statute, even though the complaint does not mention the statute or anything about providing notice to the Attorney General. GSMT presented no facts to support an inference of liability. Further, the court declined to consider arguments raised for the first time on appeal since consideration of GSMT’s argument now would undermine the substance of the current pleading requirements and produce an unjust result for GSUSA, which had no means of mounting a defense to such a naked claim.

Claim for Pension Benefits against GM Dismissed as Moot due to GM’s Dissolution. In Campos v. Cuellar, 09-3226, __Fed.Appx___, 2014 WL 5394068 (6th Cir. Oct. 23, 2014), the court dismissed as moot the petitioner’s claim against General Motors (“GM”), initially filed in her divorce case, demanding benefits from her ex-husband’s pension plan pursuant to ERISA and the Qualified Domestic Relations Order. GM removed the case to federal court and granted summary judgment in favor of GM. After this case was appealed and fully briefed, GM filed a notice of bankruptcy, and this appeal was held in abeyance. In March 2014, counsel for GM moved to withdraw as counsel, as GM was dissolved in 2012 under the liquidation plan of reorganization, and the court granted this motion. In response to the court’s order for Cuellar to show cause why this appeal is not moot due to the dissolution of GM, she responded and reasoned that: (1) her case was asserted against the GM Pension Administration Center as Plan Administrator, not GM itself; (2) “many questions need to be addressed before dismissal”; (3) she was not a party in the bankruptcy case; and (4) “New GM” may be liable for “Old GM’s” debts. The court rejected each of these reasons and determined that Cueller should have intervened in the bankruptcy case through a proof of claim in bankruptcy court. Now, the court is unable to provide Cuellar any relief now that GM, as it formerly existed, has been dissolved. The court found that Cuellar did not provide any reason to resolve an appeal based on an unsecured claim against a dissolved corporation, and her response to its order to show cause why this appeal is not rendered moot was insufficient.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim Related to Investment Manager’s Purchase of an Excessive Amount of Life Insurance Policies is Time-Barred. In Dublin Eye Associates, P.C. v. Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co., 14-5283, __Fed.Appx___, 2014 WL 5369266 (6th Cir. Oct. 22, 2014), the court affirmed the district court’s decision that the pension plan’s trustees’ breach of fiduciary duty suit against Defendants is time-barred. For 18 years, a Mass Mutual insurance agent managed the plan’s investments. The plan’s trustees received invoices and other documents indicating that the plan was purchasing vastly more life-insurance policies than the insurance agent had told them it would. However, the trustees never read any of those documents. The trustees finally discerned the discrepancy in 2007 but waited almost four years to bring suit. Dublin Eye alleged that Mass Mutual violated its fiduciary duties under ERISA, by misstating material facts concerning the life-insurance policies, wrongfully profiting from the policies’ sale, and fraudulently inducing the plan to buy the policies and annuities, among other things. An ERISA claim for breach of fiduciary duty must be brought no later than six years after the breach itself, or three years after the plaintiff has actual knowledge of the breach, whichever is earlier. 29 U.S.C. § 1113. In the case of fraud or concealment, however, the statute’s so-called discovery rule extends the filing deadline to six years after the date of discovery of such breach or violation. The trustees waited more than three years after it actually knew of the alleged breach in 2007 to bring suit. Assuming without deciding that the six-year discovery rule for “fraud or concealment” applies here, the court found that the trustees’ lawsuit is untimely. The discovery rule’s six-year period runs from the date when a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have discovered the breach, not from when the plaintiff actually did so. Here, Dublin Eye should have known about the unauthorized life-insurance sales at least six years before it brought this lawsuit because Dublin Eye received invoices that plainly showed that the plan owned as many as ten policies per participant and the doctors should have known about the plan’s purchases of excess policies on the numerous occasions when the doctors signed forms surrendering them-including on one occasion when they signed forms surrendering nine policies for the plan administrator alone.

Eighth Circuit

Summary Judgment on § 510 Claim Denied Because Reasonable Jurors Could Find a Causal Connection Between Increased Health Expenses and Termination. In Myers v. Hog Slat, Inc., No. C13-3032-LTS, __F. Supp. 3d ___, 2014 WL 5422554 (N.D. Iowa Oct. 24, 2014), the plaintiff alleged, among other causes of action, an ERISA § 510 claim based on the allegation that his former employer, Hog Slat, terminated his employment because of its desire to avoid exposure to significant health care expenses resulting from his daughter’s medical condition. The court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to this claim, finding that the circumstances could cause reasonable jurors to conclude that Hog Slat’s stated reasons for discharge are pretextual and that Hog Slat instead acted with discriminatory intent.

Under ERISA, it is unlawful for an employer to discharge or discriminate against an ERISA plan participant “for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled under the plan.” 29 U.S.C. § 1140. To establish a prima facie case, the plaintiff must show: (1) he was subjected to adverse employment action, (2) he was likely to receive future benefits, and (3) a causal connection between the adverse employment action and the likelihood of future benefits. Moreover, he must prove that Hog Slat possessed “a specific intent to interfere” with those benefits. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden would shift to Hog Slat to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for his discharge. At that point, the burden would shift back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that this reason is pretextual. Id.

The court determined that reasonable jurors could find a causal connection between the plaintiff’s discharge and his daughter’s health condition given the employer’s concern about the significant increase in costs and the timing of plaintiff’s termination. With respect to pretext, Hog Slat described its reason for discharging the plaintiff as “his violations of company billing practices, including his undisputed failure to invoice a customer while on a fishing trip with a competitor and vendor of Hog Slat.” Viewing the record most favorable to the plaintiff, the court had no trouble concluding that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether this stated reason is pretextual. Reasonable jurors could find that the evidence gives rise to an inference that Hog Slat acted with discriminatory motive. First, it is undisputed that the plaintiff was a longtime, high-performing employee at the time Hog Slat learned of his daughter’s condition. Second, the jury could find that Hog Slat failed to follow its own policies with regard to the plaintiff because it skipped the various “warning” steps before terminating his employment. Third, the record contains evidence from which reasonable jurors could find that Hog Slat treated the plaintiff more harshly than it treated similarly-situated employees. Fourth, the jury could find that other circumstances surrounding the plaintiff’s discharge are suspicious. Hog Slat’s position is that the decision to terminate the plaintiff’s employment happened over two months before anyone in the company was informed, including the plaintiff’s immediate supervisor and the company’s national sales manager, who had begun negotiations with the plaintiff for a new compensation agreement.

Unreported Decisions

Attorneys’ Fees

Werb v. ReliaStar Life Ins. Co., No. 13-CV-0669 PJS/JSM, 2014 WL 5431585 (D. Minn. Oct. 27, 2014) (awarding attorneys’ fees to prevailing plaintiff in long-term disability dispute but at an amount 40% less than requested to account for duplicative and excessive time; approving rate of $350 for attorney with over four decades of experience, and a rate of $320 for the other attorneys, each of whom has more than two decades of experience).

Trustees of Empire State Carpenters Annuity, Apprenticeship, Labor-Mgmt. Cooperation, Pension & Welfare Funds v. Thalle/Transit Const. Joint Venture, 12-CV-5661 JFB ARL, 2014 WL 5343825 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 20, 2014) (awarding attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in recovering delinquent contributions based on the CBA, which explicitly obligates employers who fail to make timely contributions to the Funds to pay attorneys’ fees and costs; and declining to decide whether the court should exercise its inherent equitable powers to award fees because the employer refused to abide by the arbitrator’s decision without justification, where ERISA Section 502(g) requires the award of attorneys’ fees to a plan that prevails in an action to recover delinquent contributions pursuant to a CBA but does not necessarily require that a successful party is also entitled to its costs and attorneys’ fees in bringing a petition to confirm an arbitration award).

Disability Benefit Claims

Werb v. ReliaStar Life Ins. Co., No. 13-CV-0669 PJS/JSM, 2014 WL 5431585 (D. Minn. Oct. 27, 2014) (in considering parties’ briefing concerning the proper long-term disability benefit payment amount after the court previously found that plaintiff was entitled to benefits, remanding the calculation issue to ReliaStar to decide in the first instance).

McKenna v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., No. 13-CV-12687, 2014 WL 5420217, at *1-2 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 23, 2014) (upholding Aetna’s denial of LTD benefits to claimant previously employed as a legal department administrative assistant and alleging disability from degenerative disc disease, where the court found that Aetna gave proper weight to the opinions of her treating physician and work limitations and found that her pain had significantly decreased and her gait had normalized).

Hailey v. Verizon Commc’ns Long Term Disability Plan, No. 1:13-CV-001528-GBL, 2014 WL 5421242 (E.D. Va. Oct. 22, 2014) (finding that MetLife’s denial of short and long-term disability benefits to claimant alleging impairment from fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and medication side effects, was not an abuse of discretion, where court found that MetLife adequately recognized chronic pain as a legitimate disabling condition, but found no evidence to support such a claim, and where the “decreased cognitive ability” due to various medications was not supported by cognitive tests).

Voltz v. Chrysler Grp. LLC, 3:13 CV 2606, 2014 WL 5393572 (N.D. Ohio Oct. 22, 2014) (finding that denial of Permanent and Total Disability Retirement benefit claim based on a skin condition (dermatitis) listed in the application for benefits was not an abuse of discretion, but that the Plan abused its discretion by failing to consider Plaintiff’s mental condition as a basis for benefits where Chrysler and the Plan were aware of her possible mental illness; granting Plaintiff attorneys’ fees and costs).

Emery v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 08-22590-CIV, 2014 WL 5341881 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 20, 2014) (finding that denial of long-term disability benefits by self-funded plan was not an abuse of discretion and that any alleged conflict of interest was only a slight factor in the decision, where Medical Director for American Airlines made questionable statements, including “I will make this case a priority to hopefully ensure it does not become a costly permanent medical disability case;” finding Defendant liable for a civil penalty in the amount of $14,080 for the failure to timely provide Plaintiff with a copy of the Plan; and denying attorneys’ fees to both parties).

Discovery

Moran v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 3:CV-13-765, 2014 WL 5342677 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 20, 2014) (denying Defendant Life Insurance Company of North America’s Motion for Reconsideration of court’s Memorandum and Order granting Plaintiff’s Motion for Limited Discovery in denial of LTD benefits matter subject to de novo review, where the court determined that Plaintiff may engage in limited discovery beyond the administrative record, rejecting LINA’s argument that the Memorandum’s failure to explain why the court should exercise its discretion to supplement the administrative record is an omission that constitutes an error of law).

ERISA Preemption

Los Angeles Sleep Studies Inst. v. Anthem Blue Cross Life & Health Ins. Co., No. LA CV14-03545 JAK, 2014 WL 5421044 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 23, 2014) (in claim by medical provider against insurer for payment of services provided to its patients, finding the following causes of action not pre-empted by ERISA: 1) breach of the oral contracts between Plaintiff and Defendant made during the telephone conversations; 2) breach of the implied contract created based upon the parties’ previous conduct of approving services for patients insured by Defendant through these same telephone conversations; 3) promissory fraud based on the oral representations made to Plaintiff during the telephone conversations; 4) unjust enrichment; 5) unfair business practices under Cal. Bus. & Prof .Code § 17200, et. seq., for failing to make the promised payments to Plaintiff; and 6) declaratory relief through a ruling that the “usual and customary” rate for the services Plaintiff provided is the one that Plaintiff has requested; and finding the following causes of action pre-empted by ERISA to the extent they are premised on the assignment of benefits under ERISA-governed plans: 1) breach of contract for reimbursement of medical expenses based on the rights assigned to Plaintiff by the patients; 2) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising from the implied contract created “and/or” the assignment of benefits).

Robbennolt v. Washington, 12-13168, 2014 WL 5332855 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 20, 2014) (granting Plaintiff’s Motion to Vacate Order on Motion for Summary Judgment where a state court issued an order requiring Plaintiff to comply with the Michigan State Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act (“SCFRA”), MCL § 800.401 and notify General Motors to mail his pension benefits to Plaintiff’s prisoner address, finding that ERISA preempts the SCFRA so that the State of Michigan may not attach or obtain Plaintiff’s benefits under a federal tax-qualified employee pension benefit plan, and that res judicata does not bar this action because justice so requires and Defendant failed to bring relevant precedent to the state court’s attention).

Medical Benefit Claims

Menkowitz v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, CIV. 14-2946, 2014 WL 5392063 (D.N.J. Oct. 23, 2014) (in action alleging breach of fiduciary duties, wrongful denial of medical benefits, and failure to provide documents, granting in part Defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that 1) Plaintiff has no standing because his patient’s assignment under the “Legal Assignment of Benefits & Designation of Authorized Representative” (“AOB”) is void due to the anti-assignment provision in the Plan; 2) the patient has standing because her claimed injury-in-fact is that she owes Plaintiff more than she would have had the Defendants properly paid the asserted benefits; and 3) ERISA § 502(a)(2) claim is not viable because Plaintiffs do not allege fiduciary misconduct resulting in loss to the Plan; rather, Plaintiffs seek monetary damages for alleged underpayment of benefits in their case only).

Pension Benefit Claims

McLafferty v. BASF Corp., 1:13-CV-00779, 2014 WL 5369423 (S.D. Ohio Oct. 21, 2014) (in action seeking disability retirement benefits, finding that Plaintiff’s cause of action is time-barred under Ohio’s applicable fifteen-year statute of limitations because his claim accrued in 1982, after Plaintiff received word from Defendant’s agent that his claim was being rejected, even though there was no formal repudiation by the fiduciary committee).

Pleading Issues & Procedure

Gurasich v. IBM Ret. Plan, No. C-14-02911 DMR, 2014 WL 5454525 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 27, 2014) (in action asserting claims for recovery of plan benefits pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), breach of fiduciary duty in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1104, and equitable relief pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), denying motion to dismiss where breach of fiduciary duty claim seeks equitable restitution and court could not conclude that it sought duplicative relief and where equitable relief claim is clearly distinct from the Section 1132(a)(1)(B) claim for recovery of benefits under the Plan, as it only applies in the alternative, in the event that Plaintiff is not entitled to benefits under the Plan, but dismissing with leave to amend Plaintiff’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty premised on 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(2)).

Hanshaw v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., No. 3:14-CV-00216-JHM, 2014 WL 5439253 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 24, 2014) (denying Plaintiff’s motion to remand to state court, finding that Plaintiff brings suit only to rectify a wrongful denial of LTD benefits promised under an ERISA-regulated plan, and that the LTD plan does not qualify as a church plan because an organization must not only be associated with the church, but it must have as its principal purpose or function the administration or funding of a benefits plan and St. Claire Medical Center is a healthcare organization – its principal purpose is the provision of healthcare, not the administration of a benefits plan).

McKenna v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., No. 13-CV-12687, 2014 WL 5420217 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 23, 2014) (striking an exhibit submitted by Plaintiff that included a summary and chronology of relevant medical events from the administrative record because it is outside of the administrative record and constitutes argument exceeding the permissible page limit).

Pipeline Indus. Ben. Fund v. Bill Hawk, Inc., No. 14-CV-0217-CVE-FHM, 2014 WL 5419323 (N.D. Okla. Oct. 23, 2014) (in matter concerning non-payment of contributions to benefit plans based in Oklahoma, granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that they met their burden to show that it would be unduly burdensome to require them to defend against Plaintiffs’ claims in this Court, where there is little or no connection between the actions of the Defendants in their capacity as ERISA fiduciaries and Oklahoma, the parties with the strongest interest in collecting unpaid contributions are not located in Oklahoma, and the bulk of discovery will occur outside of Oklahoma).

Donati v. Ford Motor Co. Gen. Ret. Plan, Ret. Comm., 13-CV-14496, 2014 WL 5394011 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 22, 2014) (denying motion to dismiss estoppel claim related to Plaintiff’s allegation that Ford failed to honor her election “of full payment of her benefit” under Ford’s General Retirement Plan but agreeing that discovery related to the estoppel claim should be deferred pending a resolution of the denial-of-benefits cause of action).

Perez v. Cargill Heating & Air Conditioning Co., 14-CV-228-JDP, 2014 WL 5325372 (W.D. Wis. Oct. 20, 2014) (in action brought by the Secretary of Labor against a company, its majority owner who recently filed for personal bankruptcy, and the company’s employee benefit plan, granting the Secretary’s motion to strike affirmative defense by owner that this action violated the automatic bankruptcy stay or at least is unnecessarily duplicative; finding that the automatic stay does not prevent the Secretary from proceeding against the company or the Plan, neither of which is in bankruptcy, and that this action falls within the § 362(b)(4) exception, but clarifying that the Secretary may not enforce any money judgment against the owner, except through the bankruptcy court).

* Please note that these are only case summaries of decisions as they are reported and do not constitute legal advice. These summaries are not updated to note any subsequent change in status, including whether a decision is reconsidered or vacated. The cases reported above were handled by other law firms but if you have questions about how the developing law impacts your ERISA benefit claim, the attorneys at Kantor & Kantor LLP may be able to advise you so please contact us. Case summaries authored by Michelle L. Roberts, Partner, Kantor & Kantor LLP, 1050 Marina Village Parkway, Ste. 105 Alameda, CA 94501; Tel: 510-992-6130.

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