Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in ERISA
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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court denying arbitration requested by two unions - the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union and the United Steelworkers Local 12203 (collectively, Union) - on behalf of former two employees of the Boston Gas Company (Company) as to their claims for pension benefits, holding that this matter called for arbitration.The Union represented the two members in filing grievances regarding their underpaid pensions. The Union submitted the grievances to the Joint Pension Committee, which was unable to resolve the dispute. The Union subsequently sought arbitration over the grievances, but the Company refused to arbitrate. The First Circuit reversed, holding that it was up to an arbitrator, not a court, to determine the matters at issue in this case. View "United Steelworkers v. National Grid" on Justia Law

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The Cintas “defined contribution” retirement plan has a “menu” of investment options in which each participant can invest. Each Plan participant maintains an individual account, the value of which is based on the amount contributed, market performance, and associated fees. Under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1102(a)(1), the Plan’s fiduciaries have the duty of loyalty—managing the plan for the best interests of its participants and beneficiaries—and a duty of prudence— managing the plan with the care and skill of a prudent person acting under like circumstances. Plaintiffs, two Plan participants, brought a putative class action, contending that Cintas breached both duties. Plaintiffs had entered into multiple employment agreements with Cintas; all contained similar arbitration provisions and a provision preventing class actions.The district court declined to compel arbitration, reasoning that the action was brought on behalf of the Plan, so that it was irrelevant that the two Plaintiffs had consented to arbitration through their employment agreements–the Plan itself did not consent. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The weight of authority and the nature of ERISA section 502(a)(2) claims suggest that these claims belong to the Plan, not to individual plaintiffs. The actions of Cintas and the other defendants do not support a conclusion that the plan has consented to arbitration. View "Hawkins v. Cintas Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a class action complaint under the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) against the fiduciaries of the retirement plan offered by his former employer, Triad, for alleged financial misconduct.The Seventh Circuit concluded that the ERISA provisions that plaintiff invokes have individual and plan-wide effect. However, the arbitration provision in Triad's defined contribution retirement plan precludes relief that "has the purpose or effect of providing additional benefits or monetary or other relief to any Eligible Employee, Participant or Beneficiary other than the Claimant." Therefore, this provision prohibits relief that ERISA expressly permits. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Triad's motion to compel arbitration or, in the alternative, to dismiss. View "Smith v. Board of Directors of Triad Manufacturing, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Labor Management Relations Act forbids employers from directly giving money to unions, 29 U.S.C. 186(a); an exception allows an employer and a union to operate a trust fund for the benefit of employees. Section 186(c)(5)(B) requires the trust agreement to provide that an arbitrator will resolve any “deadlock on the administration of such fund.” Several construction companies and one union established a trust fund to subsidize employee vacations. Six trustees oversaw the fund, which is a tax-exempt entity under ERISA 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(9). A disagreement arose over whether the trust needed to amend a tax return. Three trustees, those selected by the companies, filed suit, seeking authority to amend the tax return. The three union-appointed trustees intervened, arguing that the dispute belongs in arbitration.The court agreed and dismissed the complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While ERISA plan participants or beneficiaries may sue for a breach of statutory fiduciary duty in federal court without exhausting internal remedial procedures, this complaint did not allege a breach of fiduciary duties but rather alleges that the employer trustees’ own fiduciary duties compelled them to file the action to maintain the trust’s compliance with tax laws. These claims were “not directly adversarial to the [union trustees] or to the Fund.” View "Baker v. Iron Workers Local 25" on Justia Law

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Metz appealed the district court's judgment vacating an arbitration award that held that interest rate assumptions for purposes of withdrawal from a multiemployer pension plan liability are those in effect on the last day of the year preceding the employer's withdrawal. The district court held, however, that section 4213 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) does not require actuaries to calculate withdrawal liability based on interest rate assumptions used prior to an employer's withdrawal from a plan, and that interest rate assumptions must be affirmatively reached and may not roll over automatically from the preceding plan year.The Second Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, holding that interest rate assumptions for withdrawal liability purposes must be determined as of the last day of the year preceding the employer's withdrawal from a multiemployer pension plan. Furthermore, absent any change to the previous plan year's assumption made by the Measurement Date, the interest rate assumption in place from the previous plan year will roll over automatically. Accordingly, the court remanded with directions to enter judgment for Metz and to remand any remaining issues to the arbitrator. View "The National Retirement Fund v. Metz Culinary Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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Current and former employees of the University of Southern California may not be compelled to arbitrate their collective claims for breach of fiduciary responsibility against USC in an action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of USC's motion to compel arbitration of claims for breach of fiduciary duty in the administration of two ERISA plans. The panel held that the district court properly denied USC's motion to compel arbitration where the claims asserted on behalf of the Plans in this case fell outside the scope of the arbitration clauses in individual employees' general employment contracts. View "Munro v. University of Southern California" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned a dispute between employees represented by a Union and their successor employer. The parties agreed to arbitrate this dispute regarding change in the terms of pension provision in a collective bargaining agreement. The district court refused to compel arbitration on the grounds that ERISA preempted the Union’s claims, and this, in turn, presented an issue of arbitrability properly decided by a judge, not an arbitrator. The First Circuit vacated the order of the district court and remanded with instructions to grant the Union’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that the issue of ERISA preemption in this case was not an issue of arbitrability but, rather, one that was squarely for the arbitrator to decide. View "Prime Healthcare Services - Landmark LLC v. United Nurses & Allied Professionals, Local 5067" on Justia Law

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Central States is multiemployer pension fund. Bulk Transport is a Fund member and made contributions to the pension account of its employee, Loniewski. Bulk had certified that Loniewski was entitled by a collective bargaining agreement to participate in the Fund although the agreement was limited to Bulk’s drivers. Loniewski was a Bulk mechanic for 40 years. Bulk now denies that he was covered and has demanded that Central States refund $49,000 that Bulk had contributed to Loniewski’s pension account between 2002 and 2012. The Fund denied the request and sought a declaratory judgment. The district judge rejected Bulk’s claim. The Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 amends ERISA by imposing liabilty on employers who withdraw, partially or completely, from participation in an underfunded multiemployer pension fund, 29 U.S.C. 1381. Central States also assessed Bulk with withdrawal liability of $740,000 for the years 2010 through 2012, which Bulk challenged as excessive. At Bulk’s request, the court barred the Fund from enforcing its rules, which require arbitration of such a dispute by and conforming to the procedures of the American Arbitration Association. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to the refund, but reversed with respect to the arbitration rules. View "Cent. States, SE & SW Areas Pension Funds v. Bulk Transp. Corp." on Justia Law

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UEBT is a healthcare employee benefits trust governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, and pays healthcare providers directly from its own funds for the services provided to enrollees in its health plans. UEBT contracted with a “network vendor,” Blue Shield, to obtain access to Blue Shield’s provider network at the rates Blue Shield had separately negotiated, and certain administrative services. One of Blue Shield’s preexisting provider contracts was with Sutter, a group of health care providers in Northern California. UEBT sued Sutter, on behalf of a putative class of all California self-funded payors, alleging that Sutter’s contracts with network vendors, such as Blue Shield, contain anticompetitive terms that insulate Sutter from competition and drive up the cost of healthcare. UEBT sought damages, restitution, and injunctive relief under the Cartwright Act (Bus. & Prof. Code 16720) and California’s unfair competition law (section 17200). Sutter moved to compel arbitration, relying on an arbitration clause in the provider contract signed by Sutter and Blue Shield. The trial court denied Sutter’s motion, concluding that UEBT was not bound to arbitrate its claims pursuant to an agreement it had not signed or even seen. The court of appeal affirmed. View "UFCW & Employers Benefit Trust v. Sutter Health" on Justia Law

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Employers that withdraw from underfunded multiemployer pension plans must pay their share of the shortfall. They can seek recalculation of the plans' assessment within 90 days, 29 U.S.C. 1399(b)(2)(A), and within another 60 days, may invoke a process that the Act calls arbitration, though it is neither contractual nor consensual. Central States Pension Fund concluded that US Foods has withdrawn in part and assessed liability in 2008 and in 2009. US Foods timely requested arbitration of the 2009 assessment, but did not timely seek arbitration of the 2008 assessment. In the Fund’s suit to collect the 2008 assessment, US Foods asked the court to order the arbitrator to calculate the amount due for 2008 and 2009 jointly. The court ruled that US Foods had missed the deadline for arbitral resolution of the 2008 assessment. US Foods appealed, relying on 9 U.S.C.16(a)(1)(B), which authorizes an interlocutory appeal from an order “denying a petition under section 4 of this title to order arbitration to proceed”. The Seventh Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. An order declining to interfere in the conduct of an arbitration is not an order “denying a petition under section 4 of this title to order arbitration to proceed” under section 16(a)(1)(B). View "Cent. States SE & SW Areas Pension Fund v. US Foods, Inc." on Justia Law