Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in ERISA

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Steven Williams alleged that his former employer, FedEx Corporate Services, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against him based on his actual and perceived disabilities, and by requiring his enrollment in the company’s substance abuse and drug testing program. Williams further alleges that Aetna Life Insurance Company, the administrator of FedEx’s short-term disability plan, breached its fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) when it reported to FedEx that Williams filed a disability claim for substance abuse. Both FedEx and Aetna filed motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed and remanded. An employer is liable for an improper medical examination or inquiry, “unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” FedEx argued that it satisfied the business necessity exception because its employee testing program “ensure[] that employees who seek assistance for drug abuse or dependencies are no longer abusing the drug if they return to FedEx.” The Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not address this argument. As a result, the Court did not have an adequate record from which it could decide this issue on appeal. The Court reversed for the district court to decide that issue, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Williams v. FedEx Corporate" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review involved claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Trent Lebahn and his wife claimed that a pension-plan consultant breached a fiduciary duty by misstating the amount of the monthly pension payments that Mr. Lebahn would receive if he were to retire. The Tenth Circuit found that under ERISA, the plan consultant could be considered a fiduciary only if she exercised discretionary authority over the plan’s administration. The Tenth Circuit addressed whether a consultant exercises discretionary authority in administering the plan simply by making a calculation of benefits at the request of a plan participant Finding that a consultant does not exercise discretionary authority under these circumstances, the Tenth Circuit affirmed judgment in favor of the pension plan and its consultant. View "Lebahn v. National Farmers Union" on Justia Law
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Trent Lebahn sued Eloise Owens, a consultant for Lebahn’s employee pension plan, for negligently misrepresenting the amount of his monthly retirement benefits. The district court dismissed Lebahn’s negligent-misrepresentation claim, concluding it was preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Lebahn then filed an untimely Rule 59 motion, arguing preemption did not apply because Owens was not a fiduciary of the pension plan. The district court construed the untimely motion as one under Rule 60(b) and denied relief, reasoning that Lebahn’s argument regarding Owens’s fiduciary status had been raised too late. Lebahn appealed. The Tenth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction to consider Lebahn’s challenge to the district court’s underlying judgment, so its review was limited to the district court’s denial of relief under Rule 60(b). Upon review, the Court found Lebahn did not demonstrate the district court abused its discretion in denying relief under Rule 60(b), and therefore the district court’s judgment was affirmed. View "Lebahn v. Owens" on Justia Law

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Joseph Martinez was a participant in the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Plan, (governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)). Following some health problems, Martinez retired from plumbing in 2004 at age 56 and took advantage of the Plan’s early retirement pension. After a few years in retirement, he felt well enough to resume working, and his pension was suspended during that time according to rules that prohibit retirement benefits during disqualifying employment. When he retired again in 2009, he asked the National Pension Fund to allow him to convert the pension benefits he previously elected from an early retirement pension to a disability pension (a change that would have entitled him to higher monthly payments). The Fund denied the conversion and the district court upheld the denial. After review, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Plan language was unambiguous and allowed Plan participants to apply for and receive only one type of pension benefit for life absent several clearly delineated exceptions, none of which applied to Martinez. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Fund’s denial of Martinez’s claim for disability benefits. View "Martinez v. Plumbers & Pipefitters" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants represent a class of retirees formerly employed by Sprint-Nextel Corporation, Embarq Corporation (or a predecessor and/or subsidiary company of either Embarq or Sprint). Plaintiffs sued after Defendants altered or eliminated health and life insurance benefits for retirees. Plaintiffs asserted Defendants: (1) violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) by breaching their contractual obligation to provide vested health and life insurance benefits; (2) breached their fiduciary duty by, inter alia, misrepresenting the terms of multiple welfare benefit plans; and (3) violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and applicable state laws by reducing or eliminating the same benefits. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the breach of fiduciary duty claims, the ADEA claims, the state-law age discrimination claims, and some of the contractual vesting claims. The district court granted Defendants’ motions in part and Plaintiffs obtained a Rule 54(b) certification. The Tenth Circuit concluded Defendants did not contractually agree to provide Plaintiffs with lifetime health or life insurance benefits and thus affirmed in part the grant of summary judgment as to the contractual vesting claims. To the extent the district court granted summary judgment against class members whose contractual vesting claims arise, in whole or in part, from summary plan descriptions (other than those identified in Defendants’ motion), the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment against those class members. The Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty claims brought pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3) and reversed the dismissal of Plaintiffs’ remaining breach of fiduciary duty claims to the extent those claims were premised on a fraud theory. Finally, because Defendants’ decision to reduce or terminate the group life insurance benefit was based on a reasonable factor other than age, their actions did not violate the ADEA, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants on those claims. View "Fulghum v. Embarq Corporation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lucrecia Carpio Holmes appealed a district court’s ruling that her claim for disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was barred due to her failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Holmes v. Colorado Coalition" on Justia Law

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Dr. Charles Dahl and Ms. Kim Dahl divorced in 2010. Ms. Dahl filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah, alleging federal-law and state-law claims stemming from the terms of the divorce: (1) that Dr. Dahl improperly administered the pension trust of his medical practice to deny her funds and an accounting and (2) that her telephone conversations with the Dahls’ minor children were unlawfully monitored, recorded, and disclosed by Dr. Dahl, his attorney, and the children’s guardian ad litem (GAL) in the divorce proceedings. The district court dismissed the federal-law pension claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and granted summary judgment against Ms. Dahl on the federal-law wiretapping claims. It then declined to exercise jurisdiction on the state-law claims. Ms. Dahl appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit: affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Ms. Dahl’s pension claims on the ground that the pension trust did not qualify as an employee benefit plan under ERISA, but that the claim should have been on the merits rather than for lack of jurisdiction. The Court affirmed the district court in all other respects. View "Dahl v. Dahl, et al" on Justia Law

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Employees of Solvay Chemicals, Inc. brought an ERISA claim against the company for what they contended was improper notice with regard to changes in the company retirement program. At one time the company offered a defined benefit plan, but changed it to a "cash balance" plan that required a defined contribution from the company (rather than defined payments to employees). While the Tenth Circuit held that the company violated its notice obligations with regard to preexisting early retirement subsidies, the notice was sufficient in all other respects. As remedy for the defective notice, employees asked that the company revert back to the abandoned defined benefit plan. The district court found that the company's notice failure was not "egregious" to grant the employees' requested relief. The employees appealed the district court's denial of their request. Agreeing that the employees were not entitled to their requested relief, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Jensen, et al v. Solvay Chemicals, Inc., et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Jose Cardoza brought this lawsuit pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), to challenge United of Omaha Life Insurance Company’s calculation of his long-term disability benefits (LTD benefits). United of Omaha answered, asserting its calculation was appropriate, and counterclaimed, demanding that Petitioner reimburse it for payments of short-term disability benefits (STD benefits) which it claimed were miscalculated. On cross-motions, the district court granted Petitioner's motion for summary judgment and denied United of Omaha’s motion, concluding United of Omaha’s decision to calculate Petitioner's LTD benefits and recalculate his STD benefits as it did was arbitrary and capricious. United of Omaha appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in granting Petitioner's motion for summary judgment with respect to United of Omaha’s LTD benefits calculation: "[t]he plain language of the long-term disability benefits policy instructed United of Omaha to base its calculation of Cardoza’s LTD benefits on his earnings as verified by the premium it received. Thus, United of Omaha’s decision to do so was reasonable and made in good faith." The district court did not err, however, in granting Petitioner's motion for summary judgment with respect to United of Omaha’s recalculation of his STD benefits and demand for reimbursement "United of Omaha’s decision to recalculate Cardoza’s STD benefits based on his earnings verified by premium rather than his actual earnings was not reasonable." The Court therefore reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Cardoza v. United of Omaha Life Insurance" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant William Foster sued his former employer, Defendant-Appellee PPG Industries, Inc. (PPG), and Defendant-Appellee the PPG Industries Employee Savings Plan (collectively, Defendants) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to recover Plan benefits allegedly due him after Foster’s ex-wife fraudulently withdrew Foster’s entire Plan account balance. The district court upheld the decision of the Plan Administrator, who had determined that the Plan was not liable to reimburse Foster for the fraudulently withdrawn benefits. Foster appealed. Finding no merit to Foster's argument, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Foster v. PPG Industries, Inc., et al" on Justia Law