Court Rules Document Request not Subject to ERISA Time Limit

A court determined that an employer did not have to provide certain documents requested by cash balance plan participants within 30 days as required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

In its opinion, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky said Commonwealth Industries, Inc. “acted in a reasonably timely and sufficient manner to comply with the plaintiffs’ requests.” Judge Jennifer B. Coffman noted that the employer attempted to produce the documents, even trying to timely obtain those that were not in its possession.

According to the opinion, specifically, the plaintiffs claim that the defendants did not provide the following documents within the 30 days as required by ERISA §§ 104(b)(4), 502(a)(1)(A), (c)(1): a complete copy of all ERISA § 204(h) notices; a complete copy of the plan amendments; a statement of the plaintiffs’ respective normal retirement accrued benefit; and a complete copy of the plan document reflecting the form of benefits available upon retirement, as represented on the pan retirement application. The plaintiffs ultimately received all requested documentation, but asked the court for a penalty of $110 per day for each day past the 30-day requirement that the documents had not been received.

Coffman noted that the § 204(h) notice is a form communication that does not differ among employees, so it did not need to be sent separately in response to each request. The court also found that the complete wording of a 1997 amendment was included in a new comprehensive plan document provided to all participants upon the change from a traditional pension to a cash balance plan, so participants were provided with a complete copy of the plan amendment.

The court further said that those types of historical documents are not the types of documents required to be provided under ERISA § 104.

As for the requested statement of the accrued benefits, the court said the information requested was not formal plan documents or summaries of material modifications, so they did not have to be provided within the 30-day time limit of ERISA.

The case is Collins v. Commonwealth Industries Inc., W.D. Ky., No. 07-57-C, 1/26/09.