Controlled Group Companies are Potentially Liable if a Dissolving Company Does Not Terminate its ERISA Plans and is Not Replaced by a New Plan Sponsor
In Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. 50509 Marine LLC,?áthe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that ?Ç£where the sponsor of an ERISA plan dissolves under state law but continues to authorize payments to beneficiaries and is not supplanted as the plan?ÇÖs sponsor by another entity, it remains the constructive sponsor such that other members of its controlled group may be held liable for the plan?ÇÖs termination liabilities.?Ç¥?á In this case, Liberty Lightening Co. Inc. (?Ç£Liberty?Ç¥) sponsored and administered a pension plan under ERISA (the ?Ç£Pension Plan?Ç¥).?á When Liberty went bankrupt and was dissolved under state law in 1992, Liberty continued to be the de facto sponsor of the Pension Plan, and the Pension Plan continued to operate.?á In 2012, the Pension Plan was formally terminated and taken over by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (the ?Ç£PBGC?Ç¥) due to the Pension Plan?ÇÖs pending insolvency.?á Six years later, the… Continue Reading
The recent decision in Hampton v. National Union by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois highlights the importance of following the provisions in ERISA plan documents for delegating fiduciary duties to entities acting as plan fiduciaries, such as third-party service providers and insurers. Following the death of her husband, who was an employee of The Boeing Company (?Ç£Boeing?Ç¥), the plaintiff sought to recover accidental death and dismemberment benefits under insurance policies sponsored by Boeing, for which she was the sole designated beneficiary. After National Union, which underwrote and co-administered the policies with AIG Claims, Inc., denied the plaintiff?ÇÖs initial benefits claim, as well as her appeal of such denial, the plaintiff brought suit under ERISA. The plaintiff argued that the court should apply a de novo standard of review (i.e., no deference given to the plan fiduciary?ÇÖs prior decisions) because National Union did not have discretionary… Continue Reading
California recently enacted Senate Bill 855 (?Ç£SB 855?Ç¥), which expands certain requirements related to mental health and substance use disorders. SB 855 applies to any California ?Ç£health care service plan contract?Ç¥ or disability insurance policy issued, amended, or renewed on or after January 1, 2021. Significantly, SB 855 renders ?Ç£void and unenforceable?Ç¥ any provision in a health care service plan contract that reserves discretionary authority to the plan to determine eligibility for benefits or coverage, interpret the terms of the contract, or provide for standards of interpretation or review that are inconsistent with California law. If this provision is not preempted by ERISA as applied to an employer-sponsored group health plan, such mandate could eliminate the deferential standard of review that would otherwise be available under ERISA to the plan administrator. SB 855 is available here.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently held that the choice of law provision contained in a long-term disability insurance policy (the ?Ç£LTD Policy?Ç¥) controlled when determining which state law applied to the case. The LTD Policy, which was subject to regulation under ERISA as an employee benefit plan, stated that it was governed by the law of Pennsylvania, where Comcast (the employer) was incorporated and had its principal place of business. The employee argued that Colorado law controlled, because Colorado is where the employee worked for Comcast and filed the lawsuit. This was important because Colorado insurance law prohibited granting discretion to the plan administrator to interpret the LTD Policy, whereas Pennsylvania law did not prohibit this deferential standard. Generally, a plan administrator?ÇÖs denial of benefits under an ERISA plan is reviewed by a court de novo (i.e., without deference being paid to the plan administrator?ÇÖs… Continue Reading