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Harris v. Finch

August 26, 2008

CHARLES C. HARRIS; THOMAS CLIFFORD; DAVID R. DESROSIERS; RICHARD M. EVENS; WILLIAM S. MCLAUGHLIN, JR.; THOMAS M. MURPHY; JAMES POWERS; GARY PREVOST; ROBERT ROZELL; TERRY L. VANARNUM, JR.; KEVIN WHIBLE; PAUL J. WOLFE; DAVID J. COWLES; AND JOHN W. WEAVER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FINCH, PRUYN & COMPANY, INC.; THE RETIREMENT BOARD OF FINCH, PRUYN & COMPANY, INC.; RICHARD J. CAROTA; DAVID P. MANNY; LAURIER J. LAVIGNE; JEFFREY W. BENWAY; AND JOHN E. LEVANDOSKY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs are fourteen former employees of Defendant Finch, Pruyn & Company, Inc. ("Finch Pruyn") who participated in the company's Hourly 401K Plan ("Plan"). They filed this complaint on July 28, 2005, asserting a panoply of breach-of-fiduciary-duty claims against Defendants pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). Plaintiffs' remaining claims in this action are (1) their ERISA § 510 claims against all Defendants; (2) their breach-of-fiduciary-duty claims based on material misrepresentation and omission against Defendant Levandosky; (3) Plaintiff Desrosiers' breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim based on material misrepresentation and omission against Defendant Benway; and (4) their breach-of-fiduciary-duty claims against Defendants Retirement Board, Finch Pruyn, Manny, Lavigne, and Finch Paper, LLC ("Finch Paper")*fn1 based on their failure to monitor co-fiduciaries. They seek equitable relief: to rescind their resignations and retirements and to be reinstated with full back pay and restored benefits. They additionally seek reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Pursuant to a Memorandum-Decision and Order, dated May 13, 2008, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Additionally, the Court directed the parties to brief the issue of remedies, which constitutes the subject of this decision.

II. BACKGROUND

Each Plaintiff participated in the Plan, which Defendant Finch Pruyn created to allow its hourly-paid employees to make regular contributions to a retirement benefits account in amounts as high as fifteen percent of their annual earnings. See Complaint at ¶ 36; Affidavit of John E. Levandosky, sworn to November 3, 2005 ("Levandosky Aff."), at ¶ 9. Under the Plan, participants were entitled to a distribution of their account balance upon retirement or resignation. See Defendants' Memorandum of Law, dated November 4, 2005, at 1-2. Alternatively, participants could obtain money from their accounts without terminating their employment with Defendant Finch Pruyn by two methods. First, they could borrow up to fifty percent of their account balance for any reason. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 78. Second, they could make "hardship withdrawals," which were available for certain financial needs such as medical care, post-secondary-education tuition, and housing payments. See id. at ¶¶ 80-81. Defendants claim that they informed Plaintiffs about the various features of the Plan, including the withdrawal options, at a number of informal meetings held before the Plan became effective on October 1, 1997. See id. at ¶¶ 73-74. On January 28, 1998, Defendants issued each Plaintiff a summary plan description ("SPD"), which contained information about Plan provisions in question-and-answer format. See Levandosky Aff. at Exhibit "D."

In June 2001, Plaintiffs participated in a strike against Defendant Finch Pruyn. See Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law, dated January 31, 2006, at 1. Defendant Finch Pruyn hired replacement workers during the strike and, as a result, when the strike ended in November 2001, there were not enough vacancies to reinstate all of the strikers. See id. at 1-2. Plaintiffs were among those who were not reinstated. See id. at 2. Beginning in November 2001 and throughout 2002,*fn2 Plaintiffs contacted Defendant John Levandosky, Defendant Finch Pruyn's benefits manager, requesting information about their Plan accounts. See Complaint at ¶¶ 43-113. According to Plaintiffs, Defendant Levandosky told some of them that they would have to resign or retire in order to access money from their Plan accounts. See id. at ¶¶ 49, 54, 59, 73, 78, 83, 88, 93, 103, 110. Plaintiffs assert that, in conversations with others, Defendant Levandosky failed to inform them about the possibility of accessing money through loans and hardship withdrawals. See id. at ¶¶ 44, 64, 69, 98. Plaintiff Desrosiers also contacted personnel director Jeffrey Benway about his Plan account. See id. at ¶ 53. He claims that Defendant Benway told him he must submit a letter of resignation in order to access the funds in his Plan account. See id. at ¶¶ 54-55. Plaintiffs state that they did not learn that Defendants' statements about the Plan were false until they attended a union meeting on April 6, 2005. See Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law, dated January 31, 2006, at 13.

In June 2007, Defendant Finch Pruyn sold its paper-making assets to a newly-formed entity, Finch Paper, which currently operates Defendant Finch Pruyn's former plant and employs many of Defendant Finch Pruyn's former employees. See Dkt. No. 39 at 2.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Remedies Under ERISA § 502(a)(2)

In their supplemental brief, Plaintiffs contend that, in addition to equitable remedies under ERISA § 502(a)(3), they are entitled to legal remedies under ERISA § 502(a)(2) for breach of fiduciary duty and interference with attainment of ERISA rights. See Dkt. No. 38 at 3. Section 502(a)(2) is not limited to equitable remedies;*fn3 therefore, if the Court were to apply that provision in this case, Plaintiffs would be entitled to a wider range of remedies, including compensatory damages.*fn4 Plaintiffs rely on the recently-decided case, LaRue v. De Wolff, Boberg & Assocs., Inc., 128 S.Ct. 1020 (2008), for the proposition that an ERISA plaintiff may take advantage of § 502(a)(2) even if he is suing only to recover for his individual plan account, rather than on behalf of the plan as a whole. See Dkt. No. 38 at 4.

ERISA § 502(a)(2) provides that "[a] civil action may be brought by the Secretary, or by a participant, beneficiary or fiduciary for appropriate relief under section 409." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(2). Section 409 states, in pertinent part,

Any person who is a fiduciary with respect to a plan who breaches any of the responsibilities, obligations, or duties imposed upon fiduciaries by this subchapter shall be personally liable to make good to such plan any losses to the plan resulting from each such breach, and to restore to such plan any profits of such fiduciary which have been made through use of assets of the plan by the fiduciary, and shall be subject to ...


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