I recently had the opportunity to review PLI's ERISA Litigation Answer Book 2013.
If you're new to ERISA litigation and need a quick overview of the landscape or need a handy desk reference this is a great resource. The Q and A format combined with footnoting rather than embedding the cites in the main text makes it easy to read.
Check it out here
Florida ERISA Blog
This is a weblog devoted to recent developments in ERISA and employee benefits law in Florida.
- Name: Marcus Castillo
- Location: Clearwater, Florida
Marcus Castillo is a Florida Bar board certified labor and employment lawyer with substantial experience handling ERISA and related employee benefit cases. Mr. Castillo has extensively lectured on ERISA and, for a number of years, was the instructor for the ERISA component of the labor and employment law board certification review course sponsored by the Florida Bar. Mr. Castillo has handled a variety of ERISA and related claims including group short and long term disability insurance cases, accidental death and dismemberment and life insurance claims, group health insurance cases, disability pension and other pension benefit cases. To learn more about his practice visit www.haas-castillo.com
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Monday, May 06, 2013
ERISA Liens: Big As Ever
Thursday, January 17, 2013
ERISA Liens: Is the "800 Pound Gorilla" About To Go On A Diet?
Monday, December 10, 2012
More on the Amara Case
Friday, October 26, 2012
Back in Blog
Yes, it has been a LONG time. Family health challenges have focused attention on the practice…and my family. But I am back. And a LOT has happened.
Let’s begin with the recent past. For years the courts have struggled with the meaning of “appropriate equitable relief” in ERISA cases. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Cigna Corp. v. Amara, a case with far-reaching implications on the “equitable relief” front.
The plaintiffs in Amara brought suit under both Sections 502(a)(1)(B) and 502(a)(3) of ERISA. The former authorizes suits to enforce the right to plan benefits, the latter authorizes actions for equitable relief. The plaintiffs’ claimed that the defendants misled them in the description of benefits that would be available after a pension plan was converted to a cash balance plan. The plaintiffs presented evidence, in the form of statements contrary to plan terms, showing the employer had deliberately failed to educate plan participants about their post-transition cash balances.
The district court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor holding that the defendants “representations have become terms of the plan” and ordered the plan to calculate benefits under the modified terms. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s opinion on appeal.
The Supreme Court handed the defendants a pyrrhic victory holding that the plaintiff’s claims could not be stated under Section 502(a)(1)(B). Nonetheless, seven of the nine Justices (all but Scalia and Thomas) held open the possibility that the plaintiff’s claims could be stated under Section 502(a)(3). The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. The court observed that appropriate “equitable relief” under Section 502(a)(3) could include reformation, estoppel and “surcharge” i.e. monetary compensation.
In my next post I will explore the implications of this holding in more detail. I am glad to be back.
Monday, April 11, 2005
New 11th Circuit Fiduciary Duty Case
The scope of ERISA’s fiduciary duties was recently analyzed by the Eleventh Circuit in Cotton v. Massachusetts Mutual. The plaintiffs in Cotton accused the carrier of misrepresentation, fraud and promissory estoppel and sought equitable relief requiring that certain life insurance policies perform as described in a whole life policy presentation. The District Court in this case, while rejecting a benefits claim as well as promissory estoppel and individualized fiduciary breach relief, held that the defendants had violated ERISA fiduciary duties entitling the plan to overall relief. The Circuit Court’s reversal focused on the insurer’s role as an alleged fiduciary. Although the carrier had conceded it was a fiduciary for the purpose of making death benefit determinations, it maintained that the plaintiffs had failed to establish that it was a fiduciary for any other purpose. The court agreed. The court noted that “simply urging the purchase of (insurance) products does not make an insurance company an ERISA fiduciary with respect to those products.” Thus it is important to consider not only the scope of ERISA’s fiduciary duties but also the role of the players in a plan, with an emphasis upon whether they truly perform fiduciary duties.
Friday, March 04, 2005
The Heightened Arbitrary and Capricious Standard
Long time no blog – got a bit behind with a 2-week flu bug and the game of catch up that followed.
As I previously suggested the “standard of review” can drive the ultimate outcome in an ERISA benefits case. Many close cases involve the so-called “heightened arbitrary and capricious” standard of review. This is where the plan decision maker, although protected by discretion-granting language in the plan document, operated under a conflict of interest. The 11th Circuit has taken the position that a “poisoning of the well” should be presumed in such instance and deference to the plan reduced or eliminated. All kinds of interesting issues crop up in these cases. A recent decision out of the Southern District, Fick vs. Met Life, is particularly interesting on the issue of the evidence that can be considered by the Court.
The Fick Court held that relevant evidence outside the claims file could include: 1) the technical competence of the claims decision maker, 2) the exact nature of the information considered by the decision maker and 3) the routine claims practices followed in reaching the decision. So far so good for claimants who seek discovery. But the Court held that the plan overcame the burden against it by showing that it enlisted the help of two independent case evaluators and objectively considered all of the claimant’s evidence.
Here’s what bothers me about this opinion: it pays homage to 11th Circuit case law which underscores the dangers of the taint caused by a conflict of interest but then too easily forgives it. Plans routinely use consultants to deny claims. Does that “routine practice” justify giving them a hall pass? 11th Circuit case law gives plans the opportunity to overcome the taint by showing that their decision was in the overall best interests of plan participants and beneficiaries. This, in my opinion, is a heavier burden.