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Judges affirm AUL Insurance owed no fiduciary duty to 401(k) plan

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of an insurance company on a 401(k) plan trustee’s lawsuit that the insurance company's revenue-sharing practices breached a fiduciary duty under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

“This case presents a challenge to the practice known in the 401(k) services industry as ‘revenue sharing’– an arrangement allowing mutual funds to share a portion of the fees that they collect from investors with entities that provide services to the mutual funds, the investors, or both. … As the existence and extent of revenue sharing has become more widely known, some have expressed concern that the practice unduly benefits mutual funds and 401(k) service providers to the detriment of plan participants. This concern has fueled a number of lawsuits alleging that the practice violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA),” Judge Diane Wood wrote in Robert Leimkuehler, as trustee of and on behalf of the Leimkuehler Inc. Profit Sharing Plan, and on behalf of all others similarly situated v. American United Life Insurance Co., 12-1081, 12-1213, & 12-2536.

Leimkuehler Inc. operates a 401(k) plan for its employees and American United Life Insurance Co. provides services to the plan. Plan participants’ contributions in mutual funds are deposited into a separate account that AUL owns and controls. AUL uses the funds in that account to invest in whatever mutual funds the plan participants have selected.

Robert Leimkuehler as trustee sued alleging AUL’s revenue-sharing practices breached a fiduciary duty to the plan under ERISA. The District Court granted AUL’s motion for summary judgment, finding AUL didn’t owe any fiduciary responsibility to the plan with respect to its revenue-sharing practices and that it wasn’t a “functional fiduciary” under 29 U.S.C. Section 1002(21)(A).

“We therefore confirm that, standing alone, the act of selecting both funds and their share classes for inclusion on a menu of investment options offered to 401(k) plan customers does not transform a provider of annuities into a functional fiduciary under Section 1002(21)(A)(i),” Wood wrote.

The judges also noted that AUL’s control over the separate account can support a finding of fiduciary duty only if Leimkuehler’s claims arise from AUL’s handling of the separate account.

“They do not. As we noted earlier and as Leimkuehler concedes, AUL selects share classes and decides how much it will receive in revenue sharing when it designs its investment-options menu. Those steps occur well before a Plan participant deposits her contributions in the separate account and directs AUL where to invest those contributions. Because the actions Leimkuehler complains of do not implicate AUL’s control over the separate account, the separate account does not render AUL a fiduciary under the circumstances of this case,” Wood wrote.

The judges also affirmed the denial of AUL’s motion for attorney fees or costs under ERISA or under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d).
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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