Professor Sean Anderson recently signed on to amicus briefs in two separate Supreme Court cases regarding employment benefits.
In Thole v. U.S. Bank, N.A., the brief was filed in support of the petitioners. The case is about who is allowed to sue to enforce fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The amicus brief argues that participants and beneficiaries of a defined benefit pension plan have standing under ERISA to sue the fiduciaries who run the plan for breaching their duties, even when the plan is “overfunded,” meaning the breach creates no immediate threat to the participants’ promised pension benefits. The brief draws heavily on the law of trusts, which forms the basis for much of ERISA fiduciary law. The issue is important because, in many circumstances, participants and beneficiaries are the only parties likely to act to redress breaches of fiduciary duty that have done serious damage to the plan’s financial well-being. Read the full brief.
In Retirement Plans Committee of IBM v. Janer, the brief was filed in support of the respondents. The case is about what a plaintiff must plead to move forward on a claim that fiduciaries of an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by failing to protect the plan, when the fiduciaries had inside information gained in their capacities as corporate officers or employees. Such inside information, when it bears on the value of the employer’s stock, often leads to a tension between the fiduciaries’ duties to the plan and the restrictions imposed by federal securities laws. The amicus brief contends that the Second Circuit’s decision, which refused to dismiss the case at the pleading stage, was correct. It resists IBM’s argument to the contrary, which would allow fiduciaries to abdicate their duties to the plan whenever the securities laws are potentially implicated, rather than searching diligently for a solution that honors both. Read the full brief.