DC Managing Partner Christine Kearns Speaks to Legal Times
Media Advisory - ERISA Attorneys Available to Comment on Supreme Court Ruling in Cigna v. Amara
Frederick A. Brodie
Pillsbury's ERISA practice has been nationally ranked by Chambers USA, a leading independent guide that interviews clients to compile its rankings.
As Chambers stated, "This ERISA litigation practice has both litigators and substantive attorneys, delivering deep technical knowledge, litigation strength and trial experience. The ERISA team benefits from the firm's notable employee benefits and executive compensation practice."
According to the United States Department of Labor, more than 6 million employee benefit plans currently cover over 150 million individuals.
In the aggregate, these employee benefit plans have over $4.8 trillion in assets. Employee benefit plans, and their assets, are governed by a complicated network of laws including the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and certain state and local laws.
The recent widespread increase in class actions and other litigation involving corporate employee benefit plans underscores the need for plan sponsors and fiduciaries to be vigilant in ensuring that employee benefit plans, and the governance of those plans, comply with ERISA, securities laws and tax laws. Faced with an investigation or a lawsuit involving one or more of its employee benefit plans, a plan sponsor or plan fiduciary needs litigators who have both courtroom experience and substantive knowledge in ERISA.
Our ERISA Litigation team couples lawyers from the firm’s Employment & Labor and Executive Compensation group with seasoned ERISA litigators. The ERISA Litigation team’s breadth uniquely positions it to handle the most sophisticated types of ERISA litigation. When necessary, the team is able to call upon the experience of other Pillsbury practice sections such as Employment & Labor, Securities Litigation, Tax, Insolvency & Restructuring and Corporate & Securities. Because of our unique blend of experience and the depth of our knowledge of ERISA, Pillsbury’s ERISA Litigation team routinely handles ERISA litigation cases that range from single-employee executive compensation disputes and benefit denials to complex class actions and fiduciary litigation. As a national law firm, we have the capacity to represent clients in federal and state court virtually anywhere between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and we act as national benefits counsel for a number of Fortune 100 Companies.
The ERISA Litigation team represents clients in contested issues before the federal and state courts, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation on both a formal and an informal basis. The attorneys in our ERISA and employee benefits practice regularly advise on fiduciary matters, the tax and ERISA implications of proposed investments, issues raised by plan investments in employer stock and compliance issues facing qualified pension and savings plans, including 401(k) plans and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). For clients with group health plans and other welfare plans, we advise on matters such as the continuation of coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), privacy protection required under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), curtailment of retiree health benefits, the Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act, the Mental Health Parity Act, and the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act.
Some of our ERISA litigation experience is described briefly below:Class Actions
- Co-counsel for all corporate defendants, all current individual plan fiduciaries and certain individual defendants in five consolidated class actions arising out of declines in the value of an international pharmaceutical company’s employer stock fund.
- Represented global energy company against class action alleging claim of unpaid benefits under a retirement plan.
- Co-counsel for defendants in a multidistrict class action alleging fiduciary violations in connection with the sale of a corporate division. All but one of the claims were dismissed in favor of our client.
Executive Compensation, Change of Control and Severance Disputes
- Defended global reinsurance company against claims based on executive severance plan with “change of control” provision. Case was settled on terms favorable to our client.
- Obtained summary judgment for Fortune 50 global energy company on claims for a severance package arising out of client’s recent corporate acquisition.
- Represented large textile manufacturer and its officers in challenge to the amount of lump-sum payouts under a change-in-control provision. This complex litigation involved three separate lawsuits and more than 30 plaintiffs, and resulted in more than 10 published court opinions. Defendants ultimately prevailed on every claim, were held to have acted legally under ERISA, and were found to owe nothing to the plaintiffs.
- Represent global industrial gas company, its pension plan and its plan committee members in lawsuit to recoup demutualization proceeds wrongfully allocated between spun-off plans (currently pending in the District of Connecticut).
- Represented hospital and its affiliated defendants in action for breach of fiduciary duty alleging the failure to notify the plaintiff concerning availability of benefits. The case ended in a favorable settlement for our clients.
- Represented hospital in action for breach of ERISA’s fiduciary duties based on alleged failure to advise that decedent’s group life insurance had lapsed. The case was settled on favorable terms for our client.
- Obtained summary judgment for hospital defendants on most claims in lawsuit for breach of fiduciary duties in plan administration (currently on appeal to the Second Circuit).
- Represented directed trustee bank against a claim for breach of fiduciary duty by a company officer, plan fiduciary and plan participant who stole money from the plan, sued the plan for his benefits after the theft, and then sued the plan trustee for not suing the company to get the money back that the plaintiff had stolen.
- Successfully obtained an order of dismissal from the United States District Court based on lack of standing to sue the trustee under ERISA, given that the theft “cashed out” any interest the plaintiff had in the plan, thereby removing his standing as a plan participant. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. In obtaining the ruling, we established for the first time in the Ninth Circuit a plan’s right to set off benefits owed to plan participants against debts the participants owe to the plan.
- Represented defendant hospital in benefits dispute, obtaining summary judgment award.
- Obtained summary judgment for global energy company on claims under a severance plan.
Multiemployer Fund Disputes
- Represented international pharmaceutical company defendant in a claim for multiemployer withdrawal liability by a pension fund.
- Represented a number of large multiemployer pension plan funds in employer withdrawal liability disputes under ERISA. The representation encompassed arbitrations, court hearings and appeals.
Administrative Agency Investigations and Regulatory Disputes
- Represented corporate debtor in bankruptcy in an adversary proceeding to terminate two defined benefit pension plans. After trial of the action, obtained a settlement allowing for plan termination.
- Represented global consumer products corporation in claims brought by 30 transferred employees. Obtained dismissal of state law claims on the basis of ERISA preemption. Case settled after judge determined that monetary recovery would be unlikely.
- Removed numerous cases to federal court and successfully moved to dismiss state law claims under ERISA’s preemption clause.