ILNews

Court: Company not negligent in trust demise

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a magistrate judge's ruling in favor of a Michigan company on claims that it was negligent in managing an Indiana trust that eventually collapsed.

Magistrate Judge John Paul Godich, of the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana's Indianapolis Division, granted summary judgment in favor of Benefit Actuaries on Indiana Funeral Directors Insurance Trust's claims that Benefit violated its fiduciary duty under ERISA, and negligently failed to provide competent advice while managing the trust.

The trust appealed the ruling, Indiana Funeral Directors Insurance Trust, an Indiana trust v. Benefit Actuaries, Incorporated, No. 07-2351, arguing Magistrate Judge Godich erred in granting summary judgment on its claim that Benefit assumed the duty to comply with Michigan law; that Benefit didn't breach its duty to provide competent services as a third-party administrator, insurance broker, and advisor; and the judge erred in finding Benefit didn't breach its duty by failing to advise the trustees about risks or raising stop-loss deductibles and its poor financial situation.

The trust was created in 1972 and administered as a multiple insurance employer welfare arrangement (MEWA) to provide health benefits to funeral home employees. The trustees hired Benefit to serve as the third-party administrator, insurance broker, and advisor.

In the mid-1990s, the trust began to lose money because more claims were filed than the trust had money to cover from its self-funded health plan. The trust maintained stop-loss coverage, which would reimburse the trust for a specific amount it paid a participant over the deductible.

When financial troubles were evident, Benefit suggested the trust switch to a fully insured plan through an insurance provider, but the trust refused because it would raise the premiums substantially.

In 1997, the trust fired Benefit and later switched to a fully insured plan once it was evident the trust could no longer afford to cover the claims.

Magistrate Judge Godich found in favor of Benefit on the trust's claims and granted the Michigan company summary judgment.

The judge was correct in granting summary judgment on the trust's claim that Benefit assumed the duty to comply with Michigan law because there was nothing in the contract between the two companies that said Benefit would follow Michigan law while administering the Indiana trust, wrote Circuit Judge Terrence Evans. Nor does the trust submit evidence to show Benefit assumed the duty to provide competent actuarial advice.

Benefit didn't breach its duty to provide competent services; the magistrate judge based his decision on the testimony of Benefit's president that until 1997, the trust wasn't on the brink of ruin. Also, there is proof the trustees continuously disregarded Benefit's advice in terms of obtaining more stop-loss coverage or switching to a fully insured plan, wrote Judge Evans.
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  1. Bob Stochel was opposing counsel to me in several federal cases (including a jury trial before Judge Tinder) here in SDIN. He is a very competent defense and trial lawyer who knows federal civil procedure and consumer law quite well. Bob gave us a run for our money when he appeared on a case.

  2. Awesome, Brian! Very proud of you and proud to have you as a partner!

  3. Oh, the name calling was not name calling, it was merely social commentary making this point, which is on the minds of many, as an aside to the article's focus: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100111082327AAmlmMa Or, if you prefer a local angle, I give you exhibit A in that analysis of viva la difference: http://fox59.com/2015/03/16/moed-appears-on-house-floor-says-hes-not-resigning/

  4. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  5. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

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