NEW YORK — A New York federal judge on March 15 converted two defendants’ motions to dismiss into motions for summary judgment and ordered the parties to engage in limited discovery regarding whether mortgages included in an investment trust qualify as pension plan assets and whether the servicer of the mortgages qualifies as a fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Ronald E. Powell, et al. v. Ocwen Financial Corp., et al., No. 1:18-cv-01951, S.D. N.Y., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42784).
PHILADELPHIA — A district court did not abuse its discretion in denying prejudgment interest to the beneficiary of a death insurance policy because the court properly considered the unusual circumstances of the case and properly considered how an award of prejudgment interest would affect the other beneficiaries of the trust whose assets were lost as a result of misappropriations by those responsible for managing the trust, the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said March 13 (Regional Employers Assurance Leagues Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association Trust by Pennmont Benefit Services Inc. v. Gretchen Hutto Castellano, et al., No. 17-3753, 3rd Cir., 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 7465).
CINCINNATI — The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on March 19 found that a lower federal court erred in dismissing a complaint against a life insurer seeking benefits under the Employee Retiree Income Security Act, finding that the plan participant successfully changed her beneficiary to the plaintiff under the plan’s requirements (James E. Guinn v. General Motors, LLC, et al., No.18-3522, 6th Cir., 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 8062).
ST. LOUIS — A trial court properly found that Mercy Health’s employee pension plan is a church plan and exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act because Mercy and its Benefits Committee are “associated with” the Roman Catholic Church and “substantially all” of the plan participants are employees of the church, Mercy Health and its related entities argue in a March 18 appellee brief filed in the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (Sally Sanzone, et al. v. Mercy Health, et al., No. 18-3574, 8th Cir.).
NEW ORLEANS — A Texas federal judge did not abuse her discretion in finding, following a bench trial, that Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBSLA) violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act when it arbitrarily denied claims for covered services submitted by a company that facilitates in-office surgical procedures, a divided Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled March 19 (Encompass Office Solutions Inc. v. Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity Company, d/b/a Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Louisiana, 17-10736, 5th Cir., 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 8165).
NEW YORK — The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on March 18 issued a one-page order denying a petition for panel rehearing or, in the alternative, for rehearing en banc filed by Halliburton Inc. employees who claim that they were improperly denied early retirement benefits (Kathy Joy Kirkendall, et al. v. Halliburton, Inc., et al., No. 17-3487, 2nd Cir.).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a Feb. 27 information letter, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration clarified that under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, an ERISA-governed plan should direct all information regarding a claimant’s benefits to the authorized representative if a claimant “clearly designates an authorized representative to act and receive notices on his or her behalf with respect to a claim.”
ST. LOUIS — Washington University in St. Louis and the Washington University in St. Louis Board of Trustees (Wash U, collectively) tell the Eighth Circuit U.S Court of Appeals in a brief filed March 15 that it should affirm a federal judge in Missouri’s ruling dismissing a suit brought by plan participants accusing them of violating the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, explaining that the judge properly found that the plaintiffs failed to successfully allege that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties when managing a retirement plan (Latasha Davis, et al. v. Washington University in St. Louis, et al., No. 18-3345, 8th Cir.).
CHICAGO — One of an insured’s providers falls outside the guise of a residential treatment program and is excluded by her health insurance, but her treatment at a second health care facility clearly constituted medically necessary care, a federal judge in Illinois held March 18 in partially granting judgment in an Employee Retirement Income Security Act case for both the insured and insurer (Alice F. v. Health Care Service Corp., et al., No. 17-3710, N.D. Ill., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43150).
SAN FRANCISCO — A district court did not err in finding that a disability insurer’s denial of disability benefits under a plan’s any-occupation standard was justified because ample evidence in the record supports the insurer’s determination, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said March 15 (Susan Beach v. Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston, No. 17-16492, 9th Cir., 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 7817).
NEW YORK — The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in a one-page order on March 13 denied a Columbia University trustees’ Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f) petition for leave to appeal a lower court’s order granting class certification in a suit alleging that the university breached its duty of prudence to its retirement plan participants and beneficiaries by causing its retirement plans to incur excessive administrative fees and by failing to monitor the plans’ investment options (The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, et al. v. Chandra Cates, et al., No. 18-3559, 2nd Cir.).
CHICAGO — The Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on March 14 affirmed a district court’s finding that a disability plan’s denial of a claim for disability benefits was reasonable based on the medical evidence and the plan’s use of outside medical experts to evaluate the claim (Joseph Reinwand v. National Electrical Benefit Fund, et al., No. 18-2601, 7th Cir., 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 7492).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a March 14 opposition brief, two retirement plan participants urge the U.S. Supreme Court to deny as “unnecessary” a petition for certiorari that seeks clarification on the burden of proof for establishing loss causation under the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act (Putnam Investments LLC, et al. v. John Brotherston, et al., No. 18-926, U.S. Sup.).
PHILADELPHIA — A Pennsylvania federal judge’s adoption of a recommendation that a prevailing counterclaimant be awarded $750,000 in damages under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act but denied an award of prejudgment interest was “well-reasoned” in view of “equity considerations” and “the unusual circumstances” of the case, the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled March 13 (Regional Employers Assurance League Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association Trust, et al. v. Gretchen Hutto Castellano, No. 17-3753, 3rd Cir., 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 7465).
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — There is room for out-of-network health care providers to bring claims against Employee Retirement Income Security Act plan insurers, as long as the claims in no way implicate the plan contract, a federal judge in Connecticut held March 12 (Aesthetic and Reconstructive Breast Center LLC v. United Healthcare Group Inc., No. 18-608, D. Conn., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39284; Taylor Theunissen, M.D. LLC v. United Healthcare Group Inc., et al., No. 18-606, D. Conn., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39284).
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Plaintiffs in a suit alleging that Brown University breached its fiduciary duty in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in its management of its retirement plans on March 11 filed an unopposed motion to preliminarily approve a $3.5 million class action settlement (Diane G. Short, et al. v. Brown University, No. 17-318, D. R.I.).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court should grant review of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision that IBM employees plausibly asserted a duty-of-prudence claim against the fiduciaries of an IBM employee stock option plan (ESOP) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act because the decision creates a conflict with the decisions of other courts of appeals and undermines a 2014 decision issued by the high court, the defendants contend in a March 4 petition for writ of certiorari (Larry W. Jander, et al. v. Retirement Plans Committee of IBM, et al., No. 18-1165, U.S. Sup.).
SAN FRANCISCO — The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on March 12 denied a disability claimant’s motion to supplement the record on appeal with documents from her Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim because the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) award of benefits was based on a different definition of disability than the “any occupation” definition relied on by the plan (Alice McBurnie v. Life Insurance Company of North America, No. 17-55915, 9th Cir., 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 7254).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a number of other industry groups told the U.S. Supreme Court in an amicus curiae brief submitted Feb. 15 that the nation’s high court needs to determine which party has the burden of showing loss causation in a suits brought under the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act, explaining that “things will only get worse” if the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ ruling is allowed to stand (Putnam Investments LLC, et al. v. John Brotherston, et al., No. 18-926, U.S. Sup.)
ATLANTA — The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on March 8 affirmed a lower federal court’s finding that the administrator of an Employee Retirement Income Security Act benefits plan properly found that a woman’s "partial hospitalization" at a specialized treatment facility for anorexia was no longer medically necessary and, therefore, was not covered (Alexandra H. v. Oxford Health Insurance, Inc., No. 18-11105, 11th Cir., 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 6972).