Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in ERISA

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Pension funds regulated by the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), sued to collect shortfalls in contributions for 2003-2008 from System Parking, under four collective bargaining agreements with the union. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a judgment of $2,000,000, after concluding that it had authority to change the name on the judgment. The funds’ complaint and the judgment named, as defendant, the “L&R Group of Companies,” which is not a recognized business entity, organization, partnership, or trust; Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(a) states that suits must be conducted in the name of the real parties in interest. Rule 17(b) says that only persons or entities with the capacity to sue or be sued may be litigants. A “description” is not a juridical entity. System Parking’s assets were acquired by an entity not named in the complaint or served with process, so a motion to dismiss would have been granted, had the parties or the court been “paying attention.” With respect to the merits, the court upheld a finding that the employer’s audit was unreliable, having been prepared in-house, by a person without relevant experience, rather than by an independent accounting firm and being based on “murky” assumptions. View "Teamsters Local Union No. 727 v. L&R Group of Companies" on Justia Law
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Central States is a self-funded Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plan that provides health coverage to participating Teamsters and their dependents. The plan’s trustee sought a declaratory judgment concerning student athletes who had medical coverage under both the Central States plan and independent insurers’ policies. The trustee alleged that the plan paid the beneficiaries’ medical bills in full (about $343,000) and the insurers owe reimbursement. The plan and the insurers’ policies have competing coordination-of-benefits clauses, and each side claims that its respective provision makes the other primarily liable for the beneficiaries’ medical expenses (29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3)). The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case. ERISA section 502(a)(3) does not authorize suits of this type because the relief sought is legal, not equitable. View "Central States, Southeast & Southwest Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. American International Group, Inc." on Justia Law
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GreatBanc, the fiduciary for Personal-Touch home-health-care employee stock ownership plan, facilitated a transaction in which the Plan purchased shares in the company from the company’s owners with a loan from the company itself. It is not clear whether GreatBanc obtained independent advice or a valuation. GreatBanc had been appointed as trustee by the owners. The value of the shares fell until they were worth much less than the Plan paid, leaving the Plan with no valuable assets and heavily indebted to the company’s principal shareholders. The Plan’s participants were liable for interest payments on the loan. Employees filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The plaintiffs plausibly alleged both a prohibited transaction and a breach of fiduciary duty. View "Allen v. Greatbanc Trust Co." on Justia Law
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Rabinak worked full‐time as a business representative for the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and, incidental to that position, served on the Council’s Executive Board. He received quarterly payments of $2,500 for his service on the Board, paid by checks separate from those for Rabinak’s weekly salary. When he retired, Rabinak qualified for a pension from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Pension Fund, governed by ERISA. The compensation amount upon which the Fund calculated his annual retirement benefit did not include the $10,000 he had received each year from the Council. The Fund’s appeals committee denied an appeal. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plan’s definition of compensation includes only “salary,” and the $2,500 quarterly payments for Board service were paid separately from Rabinak’s weekly salary payments and coded differently as well. The conclusion that the payments at issue were not salary payments under his particular plan was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Rabinak v. United Bhd. of Carpenters Pension Fund" on Justia Law
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In 1991 Cheney began working as an attorney at Kirkland. She became a partner in 1997. She suffered from a spinal disease that led her to seek ergonomic accommodations in 1994 and ultimately resulted in a three‐level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion and removal of her C5 vertebra. After making various accommodations, the firm approved a leave, from January 3, until July of 2012. Her last day of work was December 19, 2011. On April 17, 2012, Cheney's neurosurgeon advised her to complete a 12‐week intensive physical therapy program and receive cervical epidural injection therapy. After the program failed to improve Cheney’s condition, the neurosurgeon recommended cervical spinal fusion surgery, which Cheney received on August 27. Cheney submitted her claim for long‐term disability benefits on July 17, before the surgery. Kirkland’s insurer denied her claim, stating that her coverage had ended in March because she was able, through March, to perform her job. Cheney sued under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132. The court found in favor of Cheney. The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding that the district court made unsupported factual findings and misinterpreted the governing documents relating to whether Cheney’s situation fell within allowable absences from “active work.” View "Cheney v. Standard Ins. Co." on Justia Law
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Trachte, a Wisconsin manufacturer, established an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in the mid-1980s. In the late 1990s, Fenkell and his company, Alliance, began buying ESOP-owned, closely-held companies with limited marketability. Typically, Fenkell would merge the acquired company's ESOP into Alliance’s ESOP, hold the company for a few years with its management in place, and then spin it off at a profit. Alliance acquired Trachte in 2002 for $24 million and folded its ESOP into Alliance’s ESOP. Trachte’s profits, however, were flat and its growth stalled, so Fenkell arranged a complicated leveraged buyout involving creation of a new Trachte ESOP managed by trustees beholden to Fenkell. The accounts in the Alliance ESOP were spun off to the new Trachte ESOP, which used the employees’ accounts as collateral to purchase Trachte’s equity back from Alliance, Trachte and its new ESOP paid $45 million for Trachte’s stock and incurred $36 million in debt. The purchase price was inflated; the debt load was unsustainable. By the end of 2008, Trachte’s stock was worthless. The employee participants in the new ESOP sued Alliance, Fenkell, and trustees, alleging breach of fiduciary duty in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The district court found the defendants liable, crafted a remedial order to make the class whole, awarded attorney’s fees, and approved settlements among some of the parties. Fenkell conceded liability. The Seventh Circuit​ affirmed the order requiring him to indemnify his cofiduciaries. View "Chesemore v. Fenkell" on Justia Law
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HMC was a shipping and shipyard services company, whose president was Hannah. HMC had a collective bargaining agreement with the mechanics union that required it to make contributions to the union’s pension fund to finance pensions for HMC’s employees. Hannah’s son, Mark, formed FCG, which bought the assets of HMC. No significant liabilities of HMC were explicitly transferred to FCG, which tried to negotiate its own collective bargaining agreement with the union. When HMC employees voted to decertify the union in 2009. the pension fund assessed withdrawal liability under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, 29 U.S.C. 1381. HMC had become insolvent, so the fund sought to impose HMC’s liability to the fund on FCG as HMC’s successor. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of FCG. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, stating that lack of evidence that Mark knew about the pension fund and the possibility of withdrawal liability cannot excuse that liability. The court stated that fraudulent intent, while a factor in deciding whether there is alter ego liability, is not necessarily an essential factor, so summary judgment on a theory of successor liability was premature. View "Bd. of Trs. of the Auto. Mechs' Local v. Full Circle Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Central States is multiemployer pension fund. Bulk Transport is a Fund member and made contributions to the pension account of its employee, Loniewski. Bulk had certified that Loniewski was entitled by a collective bargaining agreement to participate in the Fund although the agreement was limited to Bulk’s drivers. Loniewski was a Bulk mechanic for 40 years. Bulk now denies that he was covered and has demanded that Central States refund $49,000 that Bulk had contributed to Loniewski’s pension account between 2002 and 2012. The Fund denied the request and sought a declaratory judgment. The district judge rejected Bulk’s claim. The Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 amends ERISA by imposing liabilty on employers who withdraw, partially or completely, from participation in an underfunded multiemployer pension fund, 29 U.S.C. 1381. Central States also assessed Bulk with withdrawal liability of $740,000 for the years 2010 through 2012, which Bulk challenged as excessive. At Bulk’s request, the court barred the Fund from enforcing its rules, which require arbitration of such a dispute by and conforming to the procedures of the American Arbitration Association. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to the refund, but reversed with respect to the arbitration rules. View "Cent. States, SE & SW Areas Pension Funds v. Bulk Transp. Corp." on Justia Law

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The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, sets minimum funding and vesting requirements, insures benefits through the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation and includes reporting, disclosures, and fiduciary responsibilities, but exempts church plans from its requirements. The plaintiffs, former and current employees, have vested claims to benefits under the Advocate retirement plan. Advocate operates Illinois healthcare locations, employing 33,000 people. Advocate maintains a non-contributory, defined-benefit pension plan that covers substantially all of its employees. Advocate is not a church. Its predecessor formed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation from a merger between two health systems—Lutheran General and Evangelical. Advocate is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the United Church of Christ, but it is not owned or financially supported by either church. In contracts, the parties “affirm their ministry in health care and the covenantal relationship they share.” There is no requirement that Advocate employees or patients belong to any particular religious denomination, or uphold any particular beliefs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the plan “is not entitled to ERISA’s church plan exemption as a matter of law” because the statutory definition requires a church plan to be established by a church. The court rejected Advocate’s First Amendment arguments. View "Stapleton v. Advocate Health Care Network" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff took early retirement from Union Pacific in 2006 and began receiving his monthly benefit (1,022.94) in 2009. In 2010 he retired from Terminal Railroad. Terminal’s retirement plan, governed by ERISA, provides that “the retirement income benefit payable under this Plan shall be offset by the amount of retirement income payable under any other defined benefit plan … to the extent that the benefit under such other plan or plans is based on Benefit Service taken into account in determining benefits under this Plan.” The Terminal Plan administrator calculated the monthly benefit owed plaintiff for his combined years of service to Terminal and Union Pacific to be $3,725.02, from which it would deduct the monthly benefits payable under the Union Pacific Plan, which it calculated as $2,311.73. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling (under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)) in favor of plaintiff. The maximum amount payable under the Union Pacific plan was $2,311.73; plaintiff lost nothing by choosing to receive only $1,022.94, because the expected value of a stream of the monthly receipts was equal to the expected value of a stream of monthly receipts of $2,311.73 received for many fewer months. View "Cocker v. Terminal R.R. Ass'n of St. Louis Pension Plan" on Justia Law
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