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Articles Tagged with fiduciary duty

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The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently held that when a claim is brought under ERISA § 502(a)(2), individual arbitration agreements signed by employees do not apply. The rationale behind this decision is that claims brought under § 502(a)(2) are brought by the Plan, not by the individual employees who had signed the agreements.

The Plan at issue in this case is the “Partner’s Plan” (Plan), a “defined contribution” plan sponsored by one of the Defendants, Cintas. Defined contribution plans offer participants the opportunity to select investment options from a “menu” chosen by the plan’s sponsor (in this case, Cintas). Individual accounts are created for each participant, their value determined by the amount they have contributed, fees associated with management of the plan, and the market performance of the investment options selected.

ERISA requires fiduciaries to fulfill certain duties to plan participants, the two at issue in this case being the duty of loyalty and the duty of prudence. The duty of loyalty requires that plans be managed “for the best interests of its participants and beneficiaries,” while the duty of prudence requires that plans be managed “with the care and skill of a prudent person acting under like circumstances.” The Plaintiffs in this case allege that these duties were breached when the Defendants only offered opportunities to invest in “actively managed funds” and when excessive recordkeeping fees were charged to participants. The Plaintiffs brought action against Cintas, as well as its Investment Policy Committee and Board of Directors. These entities within the company are responsible for administering and appointing members to investment committees. The suit is putative class action encompassing all participants in the Plan and their beneficiaries during the relevant class period.

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Recently, the Boston Children’s Hospital asked a judge in federal court to dismiss a case brought by former employees that alleged the charging of “exorbitant” fees relating to the management of ERISA retirement plans. The Hospital argues that fees associated with the plans were not exorbitant and no damage was sustained by plan members under the class, thus the case against them should be dismissed. The Hospital additionally argues that there was no requirement for them to pick the lowest possible costs for administration of their ERISA plans. Further, they argue that the plaintiffs in the class at issue were not deeply invested in the plans that are involved.

The Plaintiffs (former employees of the Hospital) in the class allege that the Hospital’s fiduciary duties under ERISA were breached when they overcharged participants for fees relating to recordkeeping. Further, the Plaintiffs allege that the Hospital encouraged participants to invest in funds that were more expensive than others and underperformed compared to their counterparts. The case was originally brought by four former employees of the Hospital, with the class now encompassing compensation for 18,580 employees. The Plaintiffs state that while participants in similar plans were required to pay between $23 to $42 per year in recordkeeping fees, participants in the Hospital’s plans at issue paid $73. The large size of the plan, according to the Plaintiffs, would have enabled them to negotiate for lower fees if the Hospital had been proactive about ensuring the performance of their duties to the participants.

The Hospital counters in their motion to dismiss that, “ERISA does not require Children’s to select the least expensive or best performing investment, and Plaintiff’s cannot plausibly allege a breach merely by pointing to alternative target date funds that have some similarities and that purportedly cost a bit less or performed a bit better.” Further, the Hospital alleges that the Plaintiffs are essentially attempting to make arguments that are directly opposed, stating that there are no comparable plans that are both less expensive and perform better than that those at issue in the case. Regarding the plans exemplified by the Plaintiffs as less expensive, the Hospital states that the cheaper plans did not perform as well as those chosen by the Defendant. The plans argued by the Plaintiffs to be comparable also had different payment structures and provided different services to participants, according to the Hospital.

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