Employees Must Follow ERISA Plan Documents in Designating Retirement Plan Beneficiaries or Risk Losing Critical Rights

Posted in: Case Updates, De Novo Review, ERISA February 09, 2015

Have you properly designated your intended beneficiaries for your retirement plan at work?  What about for your savings plan, life insurance policy or other employee benefit plans you have through your employer?  If you have not, the impact could be dire and life-changing for your loved ones after you pass.  Make sure you follow the law so your family is properly taken care of when the inevitable happens. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal recently addressed these issues in Becker v. Williams, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 1554 (9th Cir. Jan. 28, 2015). There, a 30 year employee of Xerox Corporation died in 2011, Asa Williams, Sr.  Because Asa, Sr. did not follow through in changing his intended beneficiary with a written form after his telephone request to his employer, his son and ex-wife were left fighting each other over his retirement proceeds.  The Court framed the issue as: We must decide whether a decedent succeeded in his attempt to ensure that his son—and not his ex-wife—received the benefits to which his employer’s retirement plans entitled him. Before his retirement, Asa, Sr. participated in Xerox’s retirement and savings plan (“Retirement Plans”).  The Retirement Plans were subject to the Employee Retirement Income…

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In ERISA Cases, The Standard of Review Really Does Matter

Posted in: Abuse of Discretion, De Novo Review, ERISA, Standard of Review December 06, 2010

The Thursday December 1, 2010 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Journal featured the article co-written by Robert J. McKennon and M. Scott Koller, entitled “In ERISA Cases, The Standard of Review Really Does Matter,” in the Perspective column. It explains why it is important to identify and appropriately utilize the Standard of Review in ERISA cases.  The article is posted below with permission of Daily Journal Corp. (2010). Please click the image to view/print the article in Adobe

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ERISA Claimant Retains Burden of Proof For Establishing Disability Under a De Novo Standard of Review

Posted in: Abuse of Discretion, Case Updates, De Novo Review, ERISA November 01, 2010

The question of who has the burden of proof can often decide the outcome of litigation.  Given its importance, it is common to see litigants attempt to shift that burden to the opposing side in order to secure a tactical advantage.  Recently, in Muniz v. Amec Construction Management Inc., __ F.3d __, 2010 WL 4227877 (Decided October 27, 2010), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the question of whether the burden of proof can be shifted in an ERISA disability case.  In Muniz, a claimant diagnosed with HIV applied for benefits through his employer’s long-term disability plan (the “Plan”).  Benefits were approved and paid for the first 24 months.  However, as is common with many benefit plans, after 24 months the definition of disability changed.  In order to qualify under the Plan, the claimant must be unable to perform all the essential duties of any occupation.  As a result, the Plan terminated his benefits.  At trial, the parties agreed that the standard of review was de novo since the Plan did not grant discretion to the claims administrator.  Accordingly, the district court placed the initial burden upon Muniz as the claimant to show that he was entitled to benefits…

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Under ERISA , Procedural Deficiencies Not Considered When the Standard of Review is De Novo

Posted in: Abuse of Discretion, Case Updates, De Novo Review, Disability Insurance, ERISA October 28, 2010

Litigation pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) is rather unique.  Unlike most cases, ERISA disputes are based on a limited scope of permissible evidence.  The range of that scope is ultimately dependent on which standard of review is employed by the courts.  Typically, when the standard of review is abuse of discretion, the scope of admissible evidence is limited to what was before the claims administrator when the claims decision was made, i.e. the “administrative record.”  The reason for this limited subset of evidence is based on the sole question before the court, namely “Did the claim administrative abuse its discretion in rendering its decision?”  Obviously, evidence discovered or submitted after the claims decision was made would be irrelevant to that question, hence the narrow scope.  However, when the standard of review is de novo, the question before the court changes to whether or not the claimant is entitled to benefits.  In other words, it is simply whether or not the claimant is disabled.  Consequently, this change in question also alters the realm of admissible evidence.  Recently, the court in Ermovick vs. Mitchell, Silberberg & Knump LLP Long Term Disability Plan, 2010 WL 3956819 (Decided October 8,…

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