Meiners v. Wells Fargo & Co.
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Court of Appeals Affirms “Paternalistic” Breach of Fiduciary Duties

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently affirmed a Minnesota district court’s dismissal of a claim against Wells Fargo & Company (Wells Fargo) under ERISA. A former employee had alleged Wells Fargo breached fiduciary duties by retaining Wells Fargo’s own investment funds as a 401(k) option, and defaulting to those funds when plan participants failed to elect another option.

In holding that the former employee failed to state a claim, the court in Meiners v. Wells Fargo & Co. reasoned that the plaintiff failed to plead facts showing the Wells Fargo investment funds were an imprudent choice. Specifically, the court found that the plaintiff’s allegations that an allegedly comparable fund performed better was not sufficient, especially given the other fund’s differing investment strategy. The court’s prior decision in Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. established that plaintiffs could show that “a prudent fiduciary in like circumstances” would have selected a different fund by providing a basis for comparison–in other words, a benchmark. However, the Eighth Circuit declined the plaintiff’s invitation to extend the rationale of Braden by allowing a plaintiff to demonstrate imprudence with a benchmark that only possesses some similarities to the fund at issue.

The Eighth Circuit’s decision is in line with other courts’ rejection of ERISA claims based on the plaintiffs’ subjective views of which funds are the best overall investment. A US district court judge for the Northern District of Illinois recently labeled such breach of fiduciary duty claims “paternalistic” while dismissing a class action against Northwestern University.




401(k) Lawsuits on the Rise: Best Practices for Plan Fiduciaries

At the 36th Annual ISCEBS Symposium, Todd Solomon presented best practices for plan fiduciaries to avoid 401(k) plan and 403(b) plan class action lawsuits. Todd discussed fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA as well as potential consequences of breaching fiduciary responsibilities. He highlighted notable cases brought against plan fiduciaries, including those that allege excess plan fees. Todd discussed the need for rigorous monitoring and documentation of the review process.

View the full presentation.




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