ERISA And Plan Administrator As Fiduciary

ERISA attorneys need to read a recent opinion from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. It is styled, US Airways, Inc. v. James E McCutchen and Rosen, Louik & Perry, P.C.
The legal journey of this case is semi-complicated. What is relevant is that the employer, US Airways did not produce a copy of the ERISA Plan until US Airways agreed to produce the Plan during a meeting requested by the Office of the Solicitor General of the United States and the Department of Labor. The purpose of the meeting was to assist the Government’s attorneys in deciding whether to file an amicus curiae brief in the United States Supreme Court.
US Airways produced the actual Plan with numerous amendments, and Defendants contend that they then learned for the very first time that the Plan differed in material respects from the SPD, neither providing for a right to reimbursement nor mentioning the right to reimbursement from a recovery from one’s own insurance policy, i.e., underinsured motorist benefits.
In the case prior to the close of discovery, Defendants issued a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notice seeking copies of the Plan and the SPD including “all changes to the language and/or terms of the U.S. Airways, Inc.’s Health Benefit Plan and the Plan’s Summary Plan Description” in the 10 years preceding 2007, pertaining to “the Plan’s rights of subrogation and reimbursement.” Despite its obligations under Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and its statutory obligation pursuant to 29 U.S.C. ยง 1024(b)(4), US Airways sought a protective order, arguing that Defendants were seeking information that was irrelevant to the dispute and representing to this Court that the Plan expressly provided for its right to reimbursement. Though the Court denied the request for a protective order, US Airways did not produce the Plan contending there were never any “changes” to the controlling subrogation/reimbursement language.
The Court found US Airways’ reasons for its failure to produce the Plan to be woefully inadequate. Justice, therefore, required that Defendants’ be granted leave to amend to allow a determination regarding whether the Plan documents allow for reimbursement, and whether US Airways, as the Plan Administrator, breached its fiduciary duty to Mr. McCutchen.
This ruling is one in favor of claimants. It’s relevance is that it is often times that rulings in favor of claimants are rare. Knowing the facts of this case and being able to argue / apply them to an existing case could be extremely helpful.