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SCOTUS Holds Proof of ‘Actual Knowledge’ Required Under ERISA Statute of Limitations

The US Supreme Court handed workers a big win by preserving a six-year deadline to file ERISA class actions as the standard, but employers have already seized on language in Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion as a road map for how to impose a shorter deadline.

Justice Alito ended the unanimous opinion—which affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that ERISA grants workers six years to sue except under special circumstances—by listing several tactics employers can use to invoke a three-year statute of limitations.

McDermott’s Richard Pearl contributes to a Law360 article discussing the decision, including how employers should respond.

Access the full article.

Originally published on Law360, February 2020

See Richard Pearl’s January 2019 On the Subject on this case: Ninth Circuit Clarifies ‘Actual Knowledge’ for ERISA’s Statute of Limitations




The Top Hat-Exemption After Sikora

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) has long been a source of complex and often-expensive litigation for employers. However, as the number of actions brought by employees under ERISA have surged, employer-defendants have often relied on the so-called top-hat exemption to dismiss certain claims involving executives. Now, several federal courts of appeals have addressed the disputed contention that the presence of employee bargaining power is required for a plan to fall under the top-hat exemption. In this article, Elizabeth Rowe, J. Christian Nemeth and Joseph Urwitz look at recent appeals court decisions and their effects on this exemption.

Access the full article.

Originally published in Benefits Law Journal, Autumn 2018




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.




Supreme Court to Review Application of ERISA’s Six-Year Statute of Limitations in Tibble v. Edison Int’l.

On October 2, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States granted the plaintiffs’ petition for a writ of certiorari in Tibble v. Edison International to answer “Whether a claim that [Employee Retirement Income Security Act] ERISA plan fiduciaries breached their fiduciary obligation by offering higher-cost retail-class mutual funds to plan participants, even though identical lower-cost institutional-class mutual funds were available, is barred by 29 U.S.C. § 1113(1) when fiduciaries initially chose the higher-cost mutual funds as plan investments more than six years before the claim was filed.”  The underlying claim asserts that the investment committee of the Edison 401(k) Savings Plan (the Plan), a defined contribution plan sponsored by Edison International, breached its fiduciary duty, although the issue presented to the Supreme Court focuses on the statute of limitations applicable to that claim.

The Plan’s investment committee selected a variety of funds for the investment of Plan assets.  The funds selected by the investment committee were retail-class funds, which charged higher fees than the comparable institutional-class funds available in the retail market.  Plan participants sued, alleging that lower-cost mutual funds were available and should have been selected for the Plan’s investment portfolio.  The district court dismissed the case and the U.S. Court for the Ninth  Circuit affirmed the dismissal on the basis that the funds were selected more than six years earlier and were therefore barred by ERISA statute of limitations.

ERISA provides a six-year period within which a participant or beneficiary may sue based on allegations of a breach of ERISA fiduciary duties.  In general, the ERISA statute of limitation period begins to run on the date of the last act that constitutes a fiduciary breach owed to the beneficiaries.  The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed several claims in the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, concluding that these claims were statutorily barred because the plaintiffs’ filed them after expiration of the six-year statute of limitations period.  In addition, the district court ruled that it must defer to the investment committee’s selection of the higher-cost mutual fund by application of the deferential Firestone standard previously set by the Supreme Court.

In its petition for certiorari, the plaintiffs asked that the Supreme Court determine whether ERISA’s six-year limitations period begins on the date that the investment committee initially selected the higher-cost mutual fund options for the Plan’s investment portfolio or whether the on-going offering of such funds constituted a “continuing” fiduciary breach, thereby extending the period.  The Supreme Court elected not to address whether the Firestone deference applies to fiduciary breach actions with respect to whether a fiduciary failed to follow plan terms in the selection of investment options.

This case follows the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co.  Heimeshoff concluded that an ERISA plan’s contractual three-year limitations period for benefit claims was enforceable, despite the fact that the statute of limitations began to run before the participant’s benefit claim had been decided by the plan administrator.  Conversely, in Tribble v. Edison, Int’l., the Supreme Court is asked when ERISA’s [...]

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