ERISA litigation in United States
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP’s ERISA litigation practice has ‘a great track record of success’ in stock-drop litigation, retiree medical class actions and suits challenging stable value fund investments. The team is jointly headed by Brian Ortelere and Jeremy Blumenfeld, who both sit in Philadelphia and are noted as ‘creative thinkers who have pioneered winning defense strategies over the years’. Standout highlights include acting for FMC Corporation and General Cable in a set of fiduciary breach claims, and successfully defending Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation against a putative class action claiming breaches of its collective bargaining agreement. Further, Ortelere and Chicago-based co-head Deborah Davidson secured a full dismissal for Washington University in St. Louis in a 403(b) plan excessive fee claim, and Chicago-based Christopher Boran obtained a dismissal for the University of Pennsylvania in a similar class action. Additionally, Melissa Hill in New York secured a win for the New York City Department of Education in an ERISA withdrawal liability lawsuit involving over $100m in potential damages. Practice leader Grace E. Speights sits in Washington DC.
The team at Proskauer Rose LLP is regularly involved in high-profile ERISA litigation. One standout highlight saw Russell Hirschhor and New Orleans-based practice co-head Howard Shapiro representing Wells Fargo in a class action suit claiming a mishandling of its $35bn 401(k) plan’s target-date funds. Co-head Myron Rumeld successfully defended Charles Schwab in a putative class action claiming damages caused by expensive and poorly performing retirement plan investments. Additionally, in a major withdrawal liability case, Rumeld and Ira Golub are acting for private equity firm The Renco Group in relation to an $86m pension liabilities claim by the Steelworkers Pension Trust. Also recommended is newly made New Orleans-based partner Stacey Cerrone, who was involved in a number of ‘church plan’ litigation cases for clients including Presence Health, Wheaton Franciscan Services, Mercy Health and the Hospital Sisters Health System. Other key clients include Neuberger Berman Group, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Intel and Princeton University. Named partners are based in New York unless otherwise stated.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
At Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Eugene Scalia and Christopher Chorba are currently representing the University of Southern California in a putative class action alleging ERISA fiduciary breaches in administering its retirement plan. Chorba is also representing Aenta in a number of class actions alleging ERISA violations arising from its efforts to recover over-payments to health care providers, while Richard Doren represented Cigna in a claim by its ERISA benefits plan members alleging fraudulent activity. The firm has handled withdrawal liability claims, ERISA preemption cases and DOL investigations for clients including Boeing, ABF Freight, Primerica and the Chambers of Commerce. Also of note, Jason Schwartz represented Ford in a number of suits challenging aspects of its lump-sum retirement benefit program. Named partners are based in Washington DC except for Chorba, who co-heads the class action practice from Los Angeles.
According to one client, the team at Goodwin is 'among the best in the business’. Headed by Boston-based James Fleckner ('the gold standard in the field'), the team is involved in a number of significant matters including defending American Century, FirstGroup America, General Electric, and various others, in numerous 401(k) breach claims. The team is also representing Newport Trust Company in stock-drop litigation with claims for over $800m in damages. Other key contacts include 'expert' partner Alison Douglass, Jack Cleary, and New York-based Gabrielle Gould and Sam Rubin.
Groom Law Group’s Washington DC-based ERISA litigation team is involved in class actions and other complex litigation involving plan sponsors, financial services firms, investment managers, actuaries and other service providers. The ‘utterly unflappable, confident and knowledgeable’ Lars Golumbic heads the practice group, which also includes Michael Prame, who is rated for his ‘substantial knowledge in the field and ability to understand the bigger picture’. Sarah Adams and Mark Nielsen are defending Financial Engines and a number of welfare plan trustees in breach of fiduciary duty class action suits, while a team including Edward Meehan and associate Samuel Levin represented a multi-employer pension fund in a withdrawal liability arbitration valued in excess of $100m. The team is also noted for its ESOP litigation expertise.
Miller & Chevalier Chartered
Based in Washington DC, Miller & Chevalier Chartered regularly handles ERISA litigation for clients such as Arkansas Blue Cross, CareFirst and the Delphi Salaried Retiree Association. In a big-ticket ongoing matter, Anthony Shelly is representing an organization of retired Delta Airlines pilots in a suit against the PBGC claiming a breach of fiduciary duty in the administration of $550m of plan assets; Michael Khalil and Timothy O’Toole are also assisting with that claim. Also recommended is Tess Gee, who is representing a Fortune 500 company in a DOL investigation into its $2bn pension plan. Acting together, Shelly and Gee are representing the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) in a unique case brought against the City of Seattle challenging the city’s obstruction of a federal law enabling large employers to administer health and retirement benefits uniformly across the country.
O'Melveny & Myers LLP fields a five-partner team with expertise in the full range of ERISA litigation matters. Practice head Brian Boyle and Gregory Jacob represented Fidelity Management Trust Company in a class action suit regarding the management of a multibillion-dollar stable-value fund product, which involved excessive fee allegations. Los Angeles-based Catalina Vergara is acting for Chevron in an industry-leading case claiming 401(k) plan fiduciary breaches, and Shannon Barrett is acting for MIT in a putative class action claiming mismanagement of certain investment funds. Also recommended is Meaghan VerGow, who is representing Providence Health and Services in a class action brought against its 403(b) plan fiduciary sponsors. The team also has experience in acting for clients in audits and investigations forwarded by the DOL. American Airlines, Prudential Insurance Company, The Walt Disney Group and UnitedHealth Group are also among the team's clients. Named lawyers are based in Washington DC unless stated otherwise.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP’s New York-based ERISA litigation practice is instructed by the firm's client base in high-stakes matters. The firm’s litigation team successfully represented Exxon Mobil and its savings plan trustees in a putative ERISA class action claiming a breach of fiduciary prudence. In addition, the team acted for Citigroup in a multibillion-dollar stock drop class action, which was recently dismissed. Other notable names on the client roster include AIG, the Bank of New York Mellon, JPMorgan Chase and Prudential Insurance. Lewis R. Clayton and Brad Karp are the key figures in the practice group.
The ERISA litigation team at Seyfarth Shaw LLP experienced considerable growth in 2018 with the addition of San Francisco’s Bradley Perkins, who was formerly a senior counsel at Pacific Maritime Association, and Houston’s Scott Nelson, who joined from Baker McKenzie LLP. In addition to acting on 401(k) fiduciary breach, prohibited transaction and executive top-hat plan cases, the team also works laterally with the firm’s employee benefits lawyers to deploy unique litigation-avoidance strategies. Chicago-based practice co-head Ian Morrison defended a publicly listed paper manufacturer against a claim for breach of collective bargaining agreements. Practice co-leader Amanda Sonneborn in noted for her experience of complex DOL audits, ERISA Section 510 employment discrimination and cash balance plan claims. Also recommended are San Francisco-based Ward Kallstrom and Chicago-based Mark Casciari. University of Chicago, Burroughs and Kaiser Permanente are also among the team's clients.
Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s Washington DC-based team has handles significant 401(k) excessive fee, fiduciary breach and stock drop litigation cases, as well as DOL investigations for clients such as BP, American Express, Bear Stearns and Honda. Ongoing big-ticket cases include defending Express Scripts against a class action alleging breaches of contract, prohibited transaction rules, RICO laws and ACA compliance; Paul Ondrasik, Eric Serron and Gwendolyn Renigar are involved in that matter. Sara Pikofsky, who recently joined from Jones Day, is part of the team representing the National Indemnity Company in a stock-drop litigation class action. Additionally, Pikofsky is defending Macy’s against ERISA fiduciary breach claims forwarded by the Secretary of Labor. The team also represented Republic Services in a class action arising from alleged losses in its ESOP arrangement.
As lead counsel for UnitedHealth Group, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP defended its ERISA-governed health plan providers against a putative class action forwarded by physical therapy provider Spinedex; practice co-head Nicholas Pappas led on the case, which claimed a denial of benefits to plan beneficiaries. The New York-based team, which includes practice co-heads Jeffrey Klein and Paul Wessel, have experience in a wide range ERISA litigation including withdrawal liability, fiduciary duty, disclosure obligations and plan termination. Working alongside the firm’s broader commercial and tax litigation team, the practice also has significant experience defending cases arising from Chapter 11 proceedings, securities law and RICO laws.
Baker McKenzie LLP’s ‘outstanding’ ERISA litigation team is jointly headed by San Francisco-based James Baker and Chicago-based Lisa Brogan. Baker successfully defended Dover Corporation in a deferred compensation dispute, and also acted for HPE in a putative class action concerning a severance plan payout for 30,000 former employees. Other disputes involved prohibited transaction claims, including excessive fee and revenue sharing allegations. William Dugan and Douglas Darch are other notable names in Chicago, and Meredith Kaufman is a key contact in New York.
Greenberg Traurig LLP has recently been involved in a number of ESOP cases, including a pending class action launched against Brijon Management & Employee Leasing Services, and Brown v Wilmington Trust; Atlanta-based practice co-head Todd Wozniak won a successful ruling for Wilmington Trust against fiduciary breach and other ERISA violation claims. Jonathan Sulds in New York represented the retirement savings committee for a major energy company in an ERISA stock drop case, and James Nelson regularly represents single- and multi-employer ERISA plan fiduciaries in disputes. Also recommended is Robert Bernstein, who is representing IRA administrator Provident in a nationwide class action claiming monetary losses following a set of bankruptcies of companies that Provident had invested in.
Jenner & Block LLP's ERISA litigation practice has expertise in a range of disputes involving matters such as union multi-employer benefit plans, bankruptcy proceedings and anti-cutback rules. Amanda Amert and Craig Martin represented Northwestern University in a class action suit challenging administrative and investment management fees of its 403(b) retirement plan. Further, a team including Christopher Rillo is representing clients including CenturyLink Investment Management, Morningstar and Associated Industries Management Services in fiduciary breach lawsuits. Martin (who became chair of the firm in January 2019) and Amert are based in Chicago, and Rillo is based in Los Angeles.
The ERISA litigation team at Jones Day is particularly well known for its expertise in withdrawal liability, benefits issues in bankruptcy, and pension de-risking cases. Dallas-based Stanley Weiner and Chicago-based Michael Rossman secured a win for GE in a nationwide putative class action challenging changes to its post-retirement medical benefits. Evan Miller in Washington DC is acting for Well Fargo in an class action alleging that the company should be properly considered as a fiduciary under ERISA and therefore neglected its duties while acting as a master mortgage servicer. Representative clients for Washington DC-based Miguel Eaton include the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Alpha Natural Resources and Harsco. Sarah Pikofsky recently left the firm for Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
Mayer Brown’s five-partner ERISA litigation team is instructed by plan sponsors, trustees and fiduciaries in matters ranging from individual benefit disputes to complex class actions. Of particular note is the team’s extensive involvement in seven highly publicized university 403(b) plan ERISA fiduciary breach claims, where it acts for clients such as Columbia University, Cornell University, George Washington University and Georgetown University. The team is jointly headed by Brian Netter and Nancy Ross, the latter of whom is defending the trustees of the National Production Workers Union in a dispute concerning the transfer of assets from a 401(k) to a defined contribution plan. In the health care space, Los Angeles-based Elizabeth Mann is defending American Specialty Health against a nationwide ERISA class action forwarded by over one million plan members. Other significant clients for the practice group include AT&T, AIG, Whirlpool Corporation, Northrop Grunman Corporation and Yale University. Richard Nowak was recently made partner and Laura Hammargren is also recommended. Lawyers are based in Chicago unless otherwise stated.
McDermott Will & Emery LLP has significant expertise in stock-drop litigation cases. In an ongoing highlight, team leader Christian Nemeth and Eliot Burriss are defending Thalhimer’s ESOP trustee Lance Studdard against a stock-drop action seeking over $100m in damages. Nemeth, Burriss and Dallas-based Erin Turley are also defending the American Society of Appraisers in a $30m ESOP case in which the practice was hired to file an Amicus brief before the 4th circuit. Counsel Wilber Boies secured a dismissal of $200m of fiduciary breach claims against Chrysler’s top-hat plan filed by former company executives during the company’s restructuring exercise. Additional clients include Cigna, Aetna and Trinity Industries. The team was further strengthened in 2018 by the arrivals of Theodore Becker and Richard Pearl from Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. Associate Elizabeth Rowe also comes recommended. Named attorneys are based in Chicago unless otherwise stated.
Arent Fox LLP
The team at Arent Fox LLP often handles ERISA fiduciary breach cases, acting as fiduciary panel counsel for AIG, and also acts for numerous healthcare providers in managed care litigation matters. Practice leader Caroline English and associate Alison Anderson are representing Monsanto in a number of ongoing ERISA benefits litigation cases, and are also representing the Suffolk School Employees Health Plan and its trustees (a multi-employer plan covering school district employees) in a withdrawal liability litigation forwarded by the Sayville School District. Named lawyers are based in Washington DC.
Key names for Dentons’s ERISA litigation team include practice head Brian Cousin and Richard Scharlat, both based in New York; the duo is defending non-profit organization Chimes District of Colombia in an action brought by the DOL alleging excessive fees for services and failure to prudentially monitor the management of plan assets. Richard Fenton in Chicago acts as lead counsel to a property and casualty insurance company in a breach of fiduciary class action arising out of the client’s termination of a retiree life insurance plan. The team has also been involved in COBRA violation cases, multi-employer withdrawal liability issues and securities law violations.
King & Spalding LLP has experience in a wide range of disputes, including stock-drop litigation, where the team has acted for clients such as Coca-Cola. Recent highlights included Atlanta-based David Tetrick defending The Home Depot against a $140m claim of defined benefit fiduciary breaches. Washington DC-based Bobby Burchfield combines ‘a nuanced understanding of ERISA issues with the ability to clearly argue the case’; Burchfield saw recent success in a long-running dispute brought against CNH Industrial concerning its collectively bargained health benefits plans. Other key clients include Lone Star Funds, Peabody Energy Corporation, SunTrust Banks and Aramco Services Company.