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Class and Complex Benefits Litigation

The attorneys of HJRF have extensive experience in class and complex benefits litigation. Our member, Robert Rachal, has over twenty years of experience in complex and class action benefits litigation, including from his prior work in the premier employee benefits and labor and employment practices at Proskauer Rose and Shook, Hardy & Bacon.  When potential conflicts arise and create the need for separate counsel, our years of experience in defending complex benefits litigation well position us to work with co-counsel in defending plans, executives and fiduciaries against fiduciary and other ERISA claims.  Technology and partnering with providers, in-house counsel, and other law firms allows us to handle cases of all sizes, while providing the service and value offered by a smaller firm.

Recent examples of class and complex benefits cases in which our attorneys have been involved include:

  • Hans v. Tharaldson, 2011 WL 7179644 (N.D. Oct. 31, 2011) (defended seller-ESOP trustee in class action; acquired summary judgment rulings dismissing key claims that ESOP paid too much for $1 billion hotel company).
  • Overall v. Ascension Health, 23 F. Supp. 3d 816 (E.D. Mich. 2014) (successfully defended against class action claim that pension plan does not qualify for the church plan exemption to ERISA). 
  • Smith v. Regional Transit Authority, 827 F.3d 412 (5th 2016) (successfully defended against retiree health claim based on governmental plan exemption to ERISA). 
  • Skelly v. Insurance Services Office, 599 Fed. Appx. 409, 60 EBC 2939 (2nd April 27, 2015) (successfully defended against class action claim for pension benefits from conversion to cash balance plan).
  • Allen v. Honeywell, 698 F. Supp. 2d 1197 (D. Ariz. 2010) (retained and successfully reversed $300 million judgment that plan terms obligated company to provide enhanced “minimum benefits”).
  • Brown v. Owens Corning, 622 F.3d 564 (6th Cir. 2010) (defended plan trustee in class action on fiduciary claim challenging 401(k) plan investments in employer stock) (Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal based on adoption of broad rule on accrual of statute of limitation defense).  

 

Other significant complex benefit cases include:
  • Yates v. Hendon, 541 U.S. 1 (2004) (successfully litigated to the U.S. Supreme Court the exemption of retirement benefits from bankruptcy creditors).
  • DiFelice v. US Airways, Inc., 397 F. Supp. 2d 735 (E.D. Va. 2005) (defended plan trustee in class action on fiduciary claim challenging 401(k) plan investments in employer stock) (successfully established law and standards limiting duties of directed trustees).
  • Hastings v. Wilson, 516 F.3d 1055 (8th 2008) (defended ALPA-appointed committee members in class action on fiduciary claim challenging 401(k) plan investments in employer stock) (successfully asserted standing and Railway Labor Act defenses that led to case dismissal).
  • Raetsch v. Lucent, 2006 WL 3068648 (D.N.J. Oct. 27, 2006) (defended company against class action claim that tax code imposed retiree healthcare requirements) (worked with healthcare actuaries to develop defenses and offsets that eventually led to an amicable settlement).
  • Mathews v. Chevron Corp., 362 F.3d 1172 (9th 2004) (defended company against claims breached fiduciary duties to inform groups of employees on window plan) (after trial and appeal won on 16 of 19 claims).

In class and complex benefits litigation, experts and class issues can often control case resolution and exposure. The attorneys of HJRF have extensive experience in working with and challenging experts, and in limiting or defeating plaintiff’s claims for class certification. Representative cases include:

  • Langbecker v. EDS, 476 F.3d 299 (5th Cir. 2007) (defending company, CEO, CFO, and plan committees) (developed novel conflict theory to challenge and ultimately reverse class certification in case involving $500 million claim that employer’s stock was an imprudent investment).
  • Hans v. Tharaldson, 2010 WL 1856267 (D.N.D. May 7, 2010) (defending seller-ESOP trustee) (in ESOP case with claims seeking more than $300 million in damages, successfully required class to be spilt into subclasses, which later facilitated successful case resolution).
  • Raetsch v. Lucent, 2006 WL 3068648 (D.N.J. Oct. 27, 2006) (defending company) (seeking to preclude or limit class claims on retiree healthcare based on individualized issues and also asserted class offsets – class issues facilitated amicable settlement before class ruling).

 

Publications and Presentations

Attorneys at HJRF speak and write extensively regarding the substantive issues and claims underlying complex benefits litigation, and representative examples of these speeches and articles can be found on our various practice pages.  Robert Rachal has also written and spoken extensively on the unique procedural issues underlying class actions. Representative examples include:

Publications:

Robert Rachal, Co-Author Article, “Labor & Employment and ERISA Class Actions After Wal-Mart and Comcast – A Defense Perspective,” in 29 ABA Journal of Labor & Employment Law 319 (Winter 2014).

Robert Rachal, Co-Author Article, “Using Experts to Defeat or Limit Class Certification in Employment Law and ERISA Cases After Wal-Mart and Comcast” in Bloomberg BNA, Class Action Litigation Report (February 14, 2014).

Robert Rachal, Co-Author Article, “Labor & Employment and ERISA Class Actions After Wal-Mart and Comcast – Practice Points for Defendants,” in Bloomberg BNA, Pension & Benefits Daily (October 10 & 25 and November 2013).

Presentations:  

Al Holifield, Co-Chair and Presenter of ABA JCEB National Institute Program on ERISA Litigation (May 2014).

Al Holifield, Co-Chair and Presenter of ABA JCEB National Institute Program on ERISA Litigation (May 2015).

Al Holifield, Co-Chair and Presenter of ABA JCEB National Institute Program on ERISA Litigation (May 2016).

Robert Rachal, Panel Presenter at ABA/EEO Meeting on Labor & Employment and ERISA Class Actions After Wal-Mart and Comcast (July 2014, New Orleans, LA)

Robert Rachal, Speaker at three-part Bloomberg/BNA webinar on Labor and Employment and ERISA Class Actions After Wal-Mart and Comcast (February-April 2014).

Robert Rachal, Co-Chair of ABA JCEB National Institute Program on ERISA Litigation, and panel presenter on recent developments in Complex ERISA Litigation (May 2013, Chicago IL)

Robert Rachal, Co-Chair of ABA JCEB National Institute program on ERISA Litigation, and panel presenter on Class Actions (June 2012 Washington, D.C.).

Robert Rachal, Speaker at ABA JCEB Teleconference on Supreme Court Update:  ERISA and Class Actions (July 2011).

Robert Rachal, Panel presenter at ABA Employee Benefits Committee mid-winter meeting on class actions and ERISA (February 2011, Savannah, GA).

Robert Rachal, Panel presenter at BNA’s program on Cutting-Edge ERISA Litigation Issues on the Future of ERISA Class Actions (November 2007 Washington, D.C.).

Robert Rachal, Panel presentation at ABA Employee Benefits Mid-Winter meeting on ERISA Class Actions (February 2003, San Diego, CA).