On November 28, 2016, Judge Crabtree in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas ruled in favor of the U.S. Department of Labor and denied the motion for a preliminary injunction filed by the Market Synergy Group, Inc., challenging implementation of the Department’s conflict of interest rule and related exemptions.  Mkt. Synergy Grp., Inc. v. United States Dep’t of Labor, No. 16-CV-4083-DDC-KGS, 2016 WL 6948061 (D. Kan. Nov. 28, 2016).  The court held that Market Synergy was not likely to prove that:

  1. The Department provided insufficient notice that it would remove fixed indexed annuities (“FIAs”) from the scope of PTE 84-24 because the language of the proposed rulemaking provided the requisite notice and, even if it did not, it amounted to harmless error because commenters made the same comments Market Synergy makes in this action.
  2. The Department arbitrarily treated FIAs differently from all other fixed annuities because the Department provided a reasoned explanation for its decision to move FIAs from the scope of PTE 84-24 to better protect retirement investors.
  3. The Department failed to consider the detrimental effects of its actions on independent insurance agent distribution channels.  To the contrary, the Court found that the Department demonstrated its recognition of the effects that the final rule would have on the industry, but concluded that the need to protect consumers from conflicted investment advice outweighed those concerns.
  4. The Department exceeded its statutory authority by seeking to manipulate the financial product market instead of regulating fiduciary conduct because Congress had authorized the Department to grant exemptions, and it was therefore entitled to great deference.

The Court also noted that even if plaintiff had carried its burden to demonstrate its likely success on the merits, it had not satisfied any of the other requirements for a preliminary injunction: irreparable harm, balance of harms, and public interest.

This victory comes on the heels of the Department’s win in the District Court for the District of Columbia where the court also denied a challenge to the Department’s conflict of interest rule and related exemptions. See Nat’l Ass’n for Fixed Annuities v. Perez, No. CV 16-1035 (RDM), 2016 WL 6573480 (D.D.C. Nov. 4, 2016) (see our blog post here).  The rule and related exemptions also are facing challenges in the Northern District of Texas and District of Minnesota (see our blog post here).