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On Top of ESOP Developments: Insights from the 42nd ESOP National Conference

The 2019 ESOP National Conference, an annual gathering for employee owners from all levels, association volunteer leaders and expert professionals, took place May 22–24. Two McDermott partners, Theodore (Ted) M. Becker and Erin Turley, presented three sessions during the conference, the slides of which are available for download on the conference website. See descriptions of the presentations below: (more…)




Former Employee’s Release Agreement Bars ERISA Claim Against ESOP Fiduciary

A recent summary-judgment decision explains how individual releases can bar the individual from pursuing ERISA fiduciary-breach claims on behalf of the plan. A plan, employer or fiduciary that wants to ensure a release that includes ERISA claims on behalf of a plan should consider language that addresses the court’s areas of inquiry in the case, which are outlined in this article.

Access the full article.




Get Your Game On – How To Handle IRS and DOL Audits

During the Tax in the City event held in Dallas, Erin Turley and Allison Wilkerson gave an overview of benefit plan audits and the IRS examination process. They discussed various areas of focus, including, required minimum distributions, investment issues, benefit calculations and appropriate tax reporting. They provided attendees with best practices before an audit, as well as helpful resources from the IRS and DOL.

View the full presentation.




Final Rule on Disability Claims under Welfare and Retirement Plans Effective April 1

After some speculation about a delay in implementation of the final rules on claims adjudication of disability claims under welfare and retirement plans (the Final Rule), the US Department of Labor (DOL) confirmed that the Final Rule will be applicable beginning April 1, 2018. McDermott’s article detailing the new requirements in the Final Rule can be found here. A disability welfare or retirement benefit claim, as well as claims under certain executive compensation arrangements, severance plans and other payment plans subject to ERISA’s claims procedures, will be subject to the Final Rule if the benefit is conditioned upon a claimant’s disability, and the claims adjudicator must make a determination of disability in order to decide the claim. However, if a plan links the finding of disability to a determination made by a party other than the plan (e.g., a finding made under the employer’s long-term disability plan or a determination of disability made by the Social Security Administration), then the special rules for disability claims are not applicable to a claim for benefits under such plan.

Plan sponsors and administrators should review retirement, welfare, executive compensation and severance plans to determine whether such benefits are subject to the Final Rule’s additional requirements. Any language detailing claim procedures in plan documents and summary plan descriptions should be updated, and disability claim and appeal administrative practices and procedures, as well as disability claim and appeal notices should be revised to comply with the Final Rule.




Settling the Standard for Prudence? Fall Brings New Guidance for ESOP Trustees

Through a series of recent settlements, the US Department of Labor has outlined the process steps fiduciaries should follow in connection with a transaction involving a purchase from, or sale to, an employee stock ownership plan.

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ESOP Trends in the Marketplace

Over the years, employee stock ownership plans (ESOP) have evolved in many ways. Currently, ESOP transactions began to resemble traditional M&A transactions including financial structures, warrants and market rate sub-debt. In a recent presentation at the NCEO Employee Ownership Conference, Allison Wilkerson discusses current marketplace trends in structuring ESOP transactions, including the importance of pre-transaction structure analysis and post-transaction planning. Allison also goes over the beneficial tax planning opportunities associated with ESOP transactions.

See presentation slides here.




View From McDermott: Fifth Circuit Focuses on Process in ESOP Valuations

Though the Supreme Court’s 2014 unanimous ruling in Fifth Third Bank v. Dudenhoeffer announced the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) standards for stock valuation in the context of a large public employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), the vast majority of ESOPs are still grappling with valuation issues. ESOPs that hold stock of closely-held corporations—approximately 90% of all ESOPs— remain almost unaffected by Dudenhoeffer’s valuation discussions, and face continued scrutiny by the Department of Labor (DOL). Appraisal of closely-held stock is an inexact science that involves an inherent level of uncertainty in assessing a variety of potential fact patterns.

This article summarizes valuation issues in acquisitions of closely-held corporation stock by ESOPs in the context of Perez v. Bruister, a recently decided Fifth Circuit case. The case stressed the importance of ‘‘process’’ in valuation determinations being utilized for acquisitions of a corporation’s stock by an ESOP. In reviewing the case, this article provides a detail of the process that should be followed to ensure consideration of the appropriate factors by fiduciaries in reviewing valuations for ESOP transactions. The article concludes with a discussion of guidance provided by the court in Bruister that may be instructive as to best practices for ESOP fiduciaries charged with establishing the value to be used by an ESOP holding shares of stock of a private company.

View full report.




Supreme Court Emphasizes Heightened Pleading Standard for Stock Drop Cases

On January 25, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a per curiam opinion in Amgen Inc. v. Harris, holding that the Amgen, Inc. employees who filed suit after the value of the employer stock in which they had invested dramatically decreased, failed to sufficiently plead a breach of fiduciary duty claim under ERISA in light of the Court’s decision last term in Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer.

Read the full article.




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