Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Benjamin Reetz v. Aon Hewitt Investment Consulting, Inc.
On behalf of a class, Plaintiff sued Aon Hewitt Investment Consulting for investment advice given to Lowe’s Home Improvement to help manage its employees’ retirement plans. Aon, first as an investment consultant and later as a delegated fiduciary, owed the plan fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Plaintiff claimed that Aon’s conduct violated the core duties of loyalty and prudence. After a five-day bench trial, the district court held that Aon, in fact, did not breach its fiduciary duties. Plaintiff appealed. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court that Aon’s recommendation was not motivated by self-interest. And Plaintiff’s contention that Aon’s research conducted before it was Lowe’s delegated fiduciary could not discharge its duty of prudence also falls short. Aon engaged in a reasoned decision-making process by reviewing comparable funds. It makes no difference here that the review occurred when it established the fund (which was before Aon became Lowe’s delegated fiduciary). Plus, it continued to monitor the fund. So Aon did not violate the duty of prudence. View "Benjamin Reetz v. Aon Hewitt Investment Consulting, Inc." on Justia Law
Towers Watson & Co. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company
In 2015, Towers Watson & Co. (“Towers Watson”), a Delaware company headquartered in Virginia, purchased directors and officers (“D&O”) liability insurance coverage from several insurance companies, including National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. (“National Union”) as the primary insurer. Following Towers Watson’s merger with another company, Towers Watson shareholders filed several lawsuits against Towers Watson’s chairman and CEO and others, alleging that the shareholders received below-market consideration for their shares in the merger. The litigation was settled, and Towers Watson sought indemnity coverage from its insurers under the relevant D&O policies. The insurers refused the indemnity request, citing a so-called “bump-up” exclusion in the policies. This declaratory judgment action followed. The district court sided with Towers Watson and held that the bump-up exclusion “does not unambiguously” preclude indemnity coverage for the underlying settlements. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings. Under Virginia law, it will not do to merely identify any conceivable basis to hold that an insurance-coverage exclusion does not apply before stripping the exclusion of all force. Rather, the language of the exclusion must reasonably lend itself to an “equally possible” interpretation precluding the exclusion’s applicability. Here, however, the district court’s chosen interpretation, which disregarded the Policy’s plain language and inserted terms not included by the parties, cannot be characterized as one of two “equally possible” constructions. View "Towers Watson & Co. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Lyons v. PNC Bank
In 2005, Lyons opened a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) with PNC’s predecessor, signing an agreement with no arbitration provision. In 2010, Lyons opened deposit accounts at PNC and signed a document that stated he was bound by the terms of PNC’s Account Agreement, including a provision authorizing PNC to set off funds from the account to pay any indebtedness owed by the account holder to PNC. PNC could amend the Account Agreement. In 2013, PNC added an arbitration clause to the Account Agreement. Customers had 45 days to opt out. Lyons opened another deposit account with PNC in 2014 and agreed to be bound by the 2014 Account Agreement, including the arbitration clause. Lyons again did not opt out. Lyons’s HELOC ended in February 2015. PNC began applying setoffs from Lyons’s 2010 and 2014 Accounts.Lyons sued under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). PNC moved to compel arbitration. The court found that the Dodd-Frank Act amendments to TILA barred arbitration of Lyons’s claims related to the 2014 Account but did not apply retroactively to bar arbitration of his claims related to the 2010 account. The Fourth Circuit reversed in part. The Dodd-Frank Act 15 U.S.C. 1639c(e) precludes pre-dispute agreements requiring the arbitration of claims related to residential mortgage loans; the relevant arbitration agreement was not formed until after the amendment's effective date. PNC may not compel arbitration of Lyons’s claims as to either account. View "Lyons v. PNC Bank" on Justia Law
Tim Brundle v. Wilmington Trust, N.A.
A participant in an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) filed suit after owners of a closely held corporation sold the company to its ESOP. The participant contended that the trustee chosen for the ESOP by the corporation breached its fiduciary duties to the ESOP and overpaid for the stock — improperly enriching the corporation's owners at the expense of its employees.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's careful findings of fact concluding that the trustee had breached its fiduciary duties. In regard to liability, the district court found four major failures involving SRR's report; that the trustee failed to act as a prudent fiduciary solely on behalf of the ESOP participants; that the value of Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs) issued in connection with the ESOP's purchase of Constellis should have been deducted from Constellis's equity value for purposes of SRR’s valuation; and that the ACADEMI sale did not constitute a meaningful comparator. Furthermore, the court found no error in the district court's damages award and fee award. View "Tim Brundle v. Wilmington Trust, N.A." on Justia Law