October 2021 ERISA Litigation Update:

Given the continuing wave of ERISA litigation, this article has become a mainstay of The Speed Reader. A sample of recent cases is provided below.

The most common type of ERISA case for approximately the past fifteen years has involved retirement plan participants’ allegations that plan fiduciaries caused participants to pay excessive recordkeeping and investment fees and included one or more poorly-performing investment options in the plan. Recent cases in this category include the following:

  • Alas v. AT&T Services, Inc. (case dismissed on September 28, 2021 by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California).
  • Cutrone v. The Allstate Corp. (procedural ruling issued on September 28, 2021 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois).
  • Cho v. The Prudential Insurance Company of America (case dismissed on September 27, 2021 by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey).
  • Forman v. TriHealth, Inc. (case dismissed on September 24, 2021 by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio).
  • Williams v. Centerra Group, LLC (procedural ruling issued on September 16, 2021 by the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina).
  • Tobias v. NVIDIA Corp. (procedural ruling issued on September 13, 2021 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California).
  • Smith v. CommonSpirit Health (case dismissed on September 8, 2021 by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky).

Another type of recent ERISA case is as follows:

Caballero v. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Columbia (decided on September 30, 2021 by the U.S. District Court of for the District of Massachusetts):  In this novel case for the ERISA world, the plaintiff’s father was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by the defendants. The plaintiff won a civil court judgement against the defendants as a result. At this stage of the case, the court had to address whether the money that the defendants thus owe to the plaintiff can come from the defendants’ accounts in a retirement plan.

The court first addressed the conflict between certain statutory provisions. On the one hand, ERISA’s “anti-alienation” provision generally prohibits a creditor from reaching funds in an ERISA plan participant’s account as a means of collecting a court judgment against the participant, “unless some exception to [that] general statutory ban is applicable.” On the other hand, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (“TRIA”) states that “Notwithstanding any other provision of law . . . , in every case in which a person has obtained a judgment against a terrorist party on a claim based upon an act of terrorism…the blocked assets of that terrorist party (including the blocked assets of any agency or instrumentality of that terrorist party) shall be subject to execution or attachment in aid of execution in order to satisfy such judgment to the extent of any compensatory damages for which such terrorist party has been adjudged liable.”

The court ruled that the TRIA’s “Notwithstanding any other provision of law” clause supersedes ERISA’s anti-alienation provision. Therefore, the plaintiff is entitled to have the plan assets at issue assigned to him, to satisfy the civil court judgment.