The Fifth Circuit recently reversed a district court’s dismissal of claims that the fiduciaries of a 401(k) plan breached the duty of prudence under ERISA by offering participants retail share classes instead of cheaper institutional share classes, and causing the plan to pay allegedly excessive recordkeeping fees.  The decision is notable for articulating the level

A federal district court judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky has enforced an ESOP’s arbitration clause, sending P.L. Marketing Inc. employees’ breach of fiduciary duty claims on behalf of a putative class to individual arbitration. The case is Merrow et al. v. Horizon Bank et al., No. 2:22-cv-123, 2023 WL 7003231, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 24, 2023).

Plaintiffs, participants in P.L. Marketing, Inc.’s ESOP, sued the plan’s trustee, Horizon Bank, alleging that Horizon violated ERISA’s fiduciary duties and prohibited transaction rules by causing the ESOP to overpay for company stock. The ESOP plan document included a mandatory arbitration clause as well as a waiver of class arbitration. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing in part that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the claims because they fell within the scope of the ESOP’s arbitration clause.

We have previously blogged on the flurry of class action lawsuits challenging 401(k) plan investments in the BlackRock LifePath Index Target Date Funds. District courts around the country—seven of them in total—have granted motions to dismiss claims by 401(k) plan participants because their copy-cat allegations of underperformance were insufficient to raise a plausible inference of imprudence. That is, until now. Last week, a federal district court judge in the Eastern District of Virginia became the first to conclude that the participants’ allegations of imprudence related to the BlackRock Funds were plausible. Trauernicht v. Genworth, No. 22-cv-532, 2023 WL 5961651 (E.D. Va. Sept. 13, 2023).

A recent Ninth Circuit decision has generated considerable controversy amongst employee benefits practitioners by holding that plan fiduciaries engaged in prohibited transactions when they amended the plan’s existing recordkeeping contract to add brokerage and investment advisory services. In so ruling, the Court remanded the case to the district court to consider whether the transactions fell within the exemption for reasonable service agreements and, independently, whether it was imprudent for plan fiduciaries not to consider third-party compensation earned by the plan’s recordkeeper. The case is Bugielski v. AT&T Services, Inc., 76 F. 4th 894 (9th Cir. 2023).

Participants in AT&T’s 401(k) plan sued the plan administrator and the plan’s investment committee, alleging that defendants engaged in prohibited transactions and breached their duty of prudence by failing to investigate and evaluate all compensation earned by the plan’s longtime recordkeeper. The claims apparently were prompted by amendments to AT&T’s contract with its recordkeeper, which gave plan participants access to the recordkeeper’s brokerage account platform and to investment advisory services through a third-party advisor. Under these arrangements, the recordkeeper received revenue-sharing fees from the mutual funds available to participants via the brokerage account platform; and, through its own agreement with the investment advisor, the recordkeeper received a portion of the fees that the investment advisor earned from managing participant accounts.

In a case of first impression in the Tenth Circuit, the Court recently joined the chorus of circuit courts in holding that a 401(k) plan participant alleging excessive investment management or recordkeeping fees must assert a “meaningful benchmark” in order to survive a motion to dismiss.  In addition to rejecting commonly pleaded “benchmarks” because they were not meaningful, the Court’s ruling is of particular significance because, unlike some other courts, it dismissed the participants’ “share-class claim”—ruling on a motion to dismiss that their allegation that cheaper share classes of the same mutual fund were available to the plan was demonstrably false.  The case is Matney v. Barrick Gold, No. 22-4045, 2023 WL 5731996 (10th Cir. Sept. 6, 2023).

Two District Courts have reached conflicting decisions on the same day when ruling on substantially similar allegations that plan fiduciaries violated ERISA by paying too much for recordkeeping services, with one court dismissing the claims and the other court allowing the claims to move forward into the (often expensive) discovery phase of litigation.  The cases

On remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Seventh Circuit issued its opinion in Hughes v. Northwestern University, concluding that participants in two Northwestern 403(b) plans plausibly pled fiduciary-breach claims based on allegations of excessive recordkeeping and investment management fees, but dismissed their claim that too many investment options caused them “decision paralysis.”  In

A district court in the Southern District of Ohio and one in the Western District of Wisconsin reached opposite conclusions on motions to dismiss claims for fiduciary breach based on allegations that recordkeeping fees were unreasonably high.  Dismissal was granted in Sigetich v. The Kroger Co., No. 21-cv-697, 2023 WL 2431667 (S.D. Oh. Mar.

The grab bag of retirement provisions in the SECURE 2.0 legislation that was enacted at the end of 2022 included an expansion of the ability for a section 401(k) or 403(b) plan, or a governmental section 457(b) plan, to provide matching contributions on participants’ student loan payments.  Effective for plan years starting after December 31,

In a striking reversal of approach beginning in the summer of 2022, the District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin went from denying, in whole or in part, virtually every motion to dismiss ERISA lawsuits targeting plan recordkeeping fees and investment fund selections to granting all of them.  This nearly 180 degree pivot comes