Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in ERISA
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While Appvion was in financial distress, 2012-2016, the defendants allegedly fraudulently inflated stock valuations to enrich the directors and officers, whose pay was tied to the valuations of its ERISA-covered Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). They allegedly carried out this scheme with knowing aid from the ESOP trustee, Argent, and its independent appraiser, Stout. Appvion directors allegedly provided unlawful dividends to its parent company by forgiving intercompany notes. Appvion filed for bankruptcy protection. Appvion’s bankruptcy creditors were given authority to pursue certain corporation-law claims on behalf of Appvion to recover losses from the defendants’ alleged wrongs against the corporation; they brought state law claims against the directors and officers for breaching their corporate fiduciary duties; alleged that Argent and Stout aided and abetted those breaches, and asserted state-law unlawful dividend claims. The defendants argued that their roles in Appvion’s ESOP valuations were governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which preempted state corporation-law liability and that, despite their dual roles as corporate and ERISA fiduciaries, they acted exclusively under ERISA when carrying out ESOP activities, 29 U.S.C. 1002(21)(A). The district court agreed and dismissed.The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. ERISA does not preempt the claims against directors and officers. ERISA expressly contemplates parallel corporate liability against those who serve dual roles as both corporate and ERISA fiduciaries. ERISA preempts the claims against Argent and Stout. Corporation-law aiding and abetting liability against these defendants would interfere with the cornerstone of ERISA’s fiduciary duties—Section 404's exclusive benefit rule. View "Halperin v. Richards" on Justia Law

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HMC was a shipping and shipyard services company, whose president was Hannah. HMC had a collective bargaining agreement with the mechanics union that required it to make contributions to the union’s pension fund to finance pensions for HMC’s employees. Hannah’s son, Mark, formed FCG, which bought the assets of HMC. No significant liabilities of HMC were explicitly transferred to FCG, which tried to negotiate its own collective bargaining agreement with the union. When HMC employees voted to decertify the union in 2009. the pension fund assessed withdrawal liability under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, 29 U.S.C. 1381. HMC had become insolvent, so the fund sought to impose HMC’s liability to the fund on FCG as HMC’s successor. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of FCG. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, stating that lack of evidence that Mark knew about the pension fund and the possibility of withdrawal liability cannot excuse that liability. The court stated that fraudulent intent, while a factor in deciding whether there is alter ego liability, is not necessarily an essential factor, so summary judgment on a theory of successor liability was premature. View "Bd. of Trs. of the Auto. Mechs' Local v. Full Circle Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Kevin and Lisa Nutt worked at Osceola Nursing Home. Funds were withheld from their paychecks as “pre-tax insurance.” After Kevin was injured, they learned that Osceola had not paid premiums. Their policy had lapsed; the Nutts owed $233,000 for medical services. The insurer told Lisa that it could reinstate the policy and pay the bills if Osceola made the delinquent premium payments. Osceola did not do so. Osceola then entered into a contract with Cooper, who specialized in turning around financially troubled nursing homes. Cooper’s company, Berryville, ultimately took title to the property. Before the closing, Cooper could assume management under a temporary lease. Cooper assigned this lease to OTLC, created for the project and owned by Hargis. Though OTLC was independent, Hargis regularly worked with Cooper in nursing-home ventures. OTLC operated the facility for Cooper and Berryville for three years. Nutt told Hargis about the outstanding bills. Days later, OTLC fired both Lisa and Kevin. They sued. The court entered default judgment against Osceola under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001; found that they could not provide adequate relief; and, on a theory of successor liability, held OTLC liable. The Eighth Circuit reversed, stating that if successor liability required only subsequent operation, it would discourage the free transfer of assets to their most valuable uses. OTLC was not a party to the unlawful practices of Osceola and operated without significant connection to the culpable parties. View "Nutt v. Osceola Therapy & Living Cntr., Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2010, plaintiffs and Tidyman’s Management Services Inc. (TMSI) filed a complaint against Michael A. Davis and John Maxwell in their capacities as officers and directors of TMSI and/or its subsidiary, Tidyman’s LLC, alleging breach of corporate duties arising out of a merger between TMSI and SuperValu, which created Tidyman’s LLC. Plaintiffs requested punitive damages and attorney fees. The merger at issue occurred despite advice from a financial advisor TMSI had retained that the company should be sold, and the complaint alleged that the directors and officers had misrepresented the merit of the transaction. TMSI is a Washington corporation with its principal place of business in Montana, and was a member of Tidyman’s LLC; employee shareholders owned TMSI. A corporate liability insurance policy was in place that purported to insure Davis and Maxwell against liability incurred in their positions as officers and directors of Tidyman’s LLC. The Policy was to provide a legal defense for Davis and Maxwell throughout the federal ERISA litigation. The issues this case presented to the Montana Supreme Court were: (1) whether the District Court was correct in concluding Montana law, rather than Washington law, applied in this case; (2) whether the District Court erred in concluding that the corporate liability insurer breached its duty to defend without analyzing coverage under the policy; (3) whether the District Court erred in denying the insurer a hearing and discovery on reasonableness and collusion related to the stipulated settlements; and (4) whether the District Court erred by awarding pre-judgment interest, or in its determination of when the interest began accruing. The Montana Court concluded that genuine issues of material fact regarding reasonableness precluded summary judgment on the amount of the stipulated settlements. Accordingly,the Court reversed judgment on the stipulated settlements and remanded this case for further proceedings. The Court affirmed on all other issues. View "Tidyman s et al. v. Davis et al." on Justia Law

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Fifth Third maintains a defined-contribution retirement savings plan for its employees. Participants may direct their contributions into any of several investment options, including an “employee stock ownership plan” (ESOP), which invests primarily in Fifth Third stock. Former participants sued, alleging breach of the fiduciary duty of prudence imposed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(B) in that the defendants should have known—on the basis of both public information and inside information available to Fifth Third officers—that the stock was overpriced and risky. The price of Fifth Third stock fell, reducing plaintiffs’ retirement savings. The district court dismissed; the Sixth Circuit reversed. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. ESOP fiduciaries are not entitled to any special presumption of prudence, but are subject to the same duty that applies to ERISA fiduciaries in general, except that they need not diversify the fund’s assets. There is no requirement that plaintiffs allege that the employer was, for example, on the “brink of collapse.” Where a stock is publicly traded, allegations that a fiduciary should have recognized, on the basis of publicly available information, that the market was over- or under-valuing the stock are generally implausible and insufficient to state a claim. To state a claim, a complaint must plausibly allege an alternative action that could have been taken, that would have been legal, and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. ERISA’s duty of prudence never requires a fiduciary to break the law, so a fiduciary cannot be imprudent for failing to buy or sell in violation of insider trading laws. An allegation that fiduciaries failed to decide, based on negative inside information, to refrain from making additional stock purchases or failed to publicly disclose that information so that the stock would no longer be overvalued, requires courts to consider possible conflicts with complex insider trading and corporate disclosure laws. Courts confronted with such claims must also consider whether the complaint has plausibly alleged that a prudent fiduciary in the same position could not have concluded that stopping purchases or publicly disclosing negative information would do more harm than good to the fund. View "Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer" on Justia Law

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Fifth Third maintains a defined-contribution retirement savings plan for its employees. Participants may direct their contributions into any of several investment options, including an “employee stock ownership plan” (ESOP), which invests primarily in Fifth Third stock. Former participants sued, alleging breach of the fiduciary duty of prudence imposed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(B) in that the defendants should have known—on the basis of both public information and inside information available to Fifth Third officers—that the stock was overpriced and risky. The price of Fifth Third stock fell, reducing plaintiffs’ retirement savings. The district court dismissed; the Sixth Circuit reversed. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. ESOP fiduciaries are not entitled to any special presumption of prudence, but are subject to the same duty that applies to ERISA fiduciaries in general, except that they need not diversify the fund’s assets. There is no requirement that plaintiffs allege that the employer was, for example, on the “brink of collapse.” Where a stock is publicly traded, allegations that a fiduciary should have recognized, on the basis of publicly available information, that the market was over- or under-valuing the stock are generally implausible and insufficient to state a claim. To state a claim, a complaint must plausibly allege an alternative action that could have been taken, that would have been legal, and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it. ERISA’s duty of prudence never requires a fiduciary to break the law, so a fiduciary cannot be imprudent for failing to buy or sell in violation of insider trading laws. An allegation that fiduciaries failed to decide, based on negative inside information, to refrain from making additional stock purchases or failed to publicly disclose that information so that the stock would no longer be overvalued, requires courts to consider possible conflicts with complex insider trading and corporate disclosure laws. Courts confronted with such claims must also consider whether the complaint has plausibly alleged that a prudent fiduciary in the same position could not have concluded that stopping purchases or publicly disclosing negative information would do more harm than good to the fund. View "Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer" on Justia Law

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This appeal required the court to determine what effect, if any, a retiree benefits-related provision included in an asset purchase agreement had on the acquiring company's retiree benefits plans governed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1000 et seq. The court held that the provision constituted a valid plan amendment. Moreover, the court held that the provision was assumed, not rejected, in bankruptcy. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Evans, et al. v. Sterling Chemicals, Inc., et al." on Justia Law