For a number of ERISA, tax and other regulatory reasons, it may be desirable for the manager or sponsor of an investment fund or other structure to utilize what is often referred to as a plan asset “hard-wired” conduit feeder. Tune in to this podcast as partner Ira Bogner and senior counsel Adam Scoll discuss more about these structures, and the advantages they can provide.
Four class actions were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts challenging whether float income earned on monies pending a transaction was a “plan asset.” In re Fidelity ERISA Float Income, No. 13-10222, 2015 WL 1061497 (D. Mass. March 11, 2015). Plaintiffs argued that if float was a plan asset, then Fidelity breached its fiduciary duties and committed a prohibited transaction by keeping this float income for its own benefit. Applying ordinary notions of property rights, the District Court held that float income was not a plan asset.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”), requires trustees of multiemployer pension and benefit funds to collect contributions required to be made by contributing employers under their collective bargaining agreements (“CBAs”) with the labor union sponsoring the plans. This is not always an easy task—often, an employer is an incorporated entity with limited assets or financial resources to satisfy its contractual obligations. In some instances, an employer will resort to filing for bankruptcy to obtain a discharge of its debts to the pension or benefit funds.
In a distinct trend, federal courts have found that, depending on the text of the underlying plan documents, unpaid employer contributions due under a CBA may be viewed as plan assets, such that the representatives of an employer who exercise fiduciary control over those plan assets can be held individually liable for the unpaid amounts (together with interest and penalties) under ERISA. These cases will no doubt help plan trustees and administrators collect monies owed to the plan. They also should serve as cautionary warnings to contributing employers to ensure that they fully understand the obligations that they are undertaking when they agree to contribute to ERISA funds pursuant to CBAs.
The Ninth Circuit recently held that an employer who failed to pay $170,045 in withdrawal liability could discharge the liability in bankruptcy. Carpenters Pension Trust Fund v. Moxley, No. 11-16133 (9th Cir. August 20, 2013). In so ruling, the Court rejected the Fund’s argument that unpaid withdrawal liability constituted a plan asset. The Court…
The Third Circuit recently found that while a life insurance company acts as a fiduciary in choosing to use a retained asset account to distribute benefits, it did not breach its fiduciary duties in making that choice. When an insurer creates a retained asset account as the method by which it will distribute benefits, it does not initially deposit any funds; rather, it credits the account with the benefits. The insurer does not transfer funds into the account until a beneficiary writes a check, at which point the insurer transfers funds to cover the check. Prior to payment, the beneficiary’s balance earns interest at a predetermined rate, but the insurer is free to invest the retained assets for its own benefit.
In Int’l Painters and Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. Clayton B. Obersheimer, Inc., 2013 WL 594691 (D. Md. Feb. 13, 2013), a district court rejected plaintiffs’ contention that company officers were acting as ERISA fiduciaries in connection with the company’s delinquent contributions to a pension plan because they exercised discretionary control over the…