The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974’s (ERISA) substantive requirements, as well as its civil enforcement scheme, are complex. The financial exposure for benefit plan−related litigation can be substantial, particularly in suits that challenge plan management, claims administration, or plan costs on a class-wide basis.  Our national team of seasoned ERISA and Employee Benefits litigators vigorously defend plans, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, and service providers in these complex lawsuits, and we have decades of experience defending clients in any litigation involving health, welfare, and retirement plans.

Our ERISA and Employee Benefits Litigation Practice exemplifies the firm’s collaborative approach to tackling our clients’ most critical legal and business challenges. Our litigators work closely with experienced practitioners in other practice groups, including Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation; ERISA Financial Services, Investment Management, Corporate and Securities; Labor and Employment; and Insurance, with the overriding goal to most efficiently achieve our clients’ objectives in each matter.

ERISA Litigation

Drinker Biddle has a remarkable wealth of experience in successfully defending clients against the full array of ERISA-based claims, including:

  • Obtaining the first dismissal, with prejudice, of an ERISA class action among a series of cases filed across the country by the same law firm alleging excessive fees and prohibited transactions in connection with asset-based fees charged 401(k) plan participants for robo-adviser investment advisory services.
  • Representing a multibillion-dollar energy company in a lawsuit that challenged the calculation of its multiemployer plan withdrawal liability, alleging it wrongfully used interest rate assumptions that increased potential liability by more than $70 million.
  • Defeating 401(k) plan participant claims for loss in value to company stock held in the participants’ individual accounts.
  • Obtaining the first dismissals of ERISA class actions among a series of cases filed nationally against health benefit plan insurers and claims administrators that alleged violation of ERISA fiduciary duties and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, and asserted claims for benefits in connection with denial of plan coverage for “wilderness therapy” or “outdoor behavioral health” programs.
  • Obtaining summary judgment in an ERISA class action that asserted breach of fiduciary duty in connection with a 24-month mental illness limitation on plan disability benefits.
  • Obtaining summary judgments for multiple plan sponsors sued in ERISA class actions by plan participants who alleged violations of ERISA for modification of retiree health and welfare plan benefits.
  • Defeating a motion for class certification filed on behalf of more than 1,000 group annuity contract owners who alleged ERISA, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), securities, and common law fraud claims.
  • Successfully defending a wide variety of lawsuits for individual benefits and fiduciary breach claims seeking ERISA pension and welfare plan benefits, including life insurance, disability, death and dismemberment, and health benefits.
  • Successfully challenging dozens of Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA) withdrawal liability assessments resulting in tens of millions of dollars in savings for employers.
  • Representing multiple industry trade associations in filing numerous amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in federal appellate ERISA cases throughout the United States, including before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our most experienced attorneys have litigated ERISA issues for more than three decades. These attorneys have helped shape the judicial interpretation and application of key ERISA liability and remedial provisions over much of the statute’s history. In fact, our attorneys were directly involved in many of the most significant ERISA fiduciary liability cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. For example:

  • Our lawyers represented amicus curiae American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) in two pivotal ERISA fiduciary cases before the U.S. Supreme Court: Harris Trust & Sav. Bank v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 510 U.S. 86 (1993), aff'g, 970 F.2d 1138 (2d Cir. 1992); and Mertens v. Hewitt Assocs., 508 U.S. 248 (1993), aff'g, 948 F.2d 607 (9th Cir. 1991).
  • In Knudson v. Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co., 534 U.S. 204 (2002), our lawyers acted as lead counsel for an insurer in a seminal case clarifying the relief available under ERISA section 502(a)(3). The case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court by our partner James F. Jorden.
  • Our ERISA litigators also represented amici curiae America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Benefits Council, and the National Association of Manufacturers before the U.S. Supreme Court in Sereboff v. Mid Atlantic Medical Services, Inc., 547 U.S. 356 (2006), regarding the scope of relief available for fiduciary breaches.

Aside from litigation, more than two dozen lawyers in Drinker Biddle’s Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Practice Group provide advice and counsel with respect to ERISA regulatory issues, employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) issues, actuarial and tax issues, and state fiduciary and trust law issues, and we have substantial experience representing clients in audits, investigations, and other proceedings initiated by the United States Department of Labor, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and the Internal Revenue Service. Our ERISA litigation team often consults with these ERISA compliance attorneys who serve as additional subject matter experts. In addition, our ERISA litigation and compliance attorneys meet regularly to discuss emerging trends and to help clients anticipate issues, assess the impact of litigation developments, and position themselves to defend against such litigation. Collaborating on compliance and regulatory issues provides our ERISA litigators with a deep understanding of the law, which we draw upon to produce superior results.