Judge Tosses Fee/Commission Conspiracy Case against Workplace Insurers

After declaring that none of the six major insurance providers accused in a commission conspiracy were fiduciaries under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) a federal judge has cleared the companies of wrongdoing.

Ruling in now-consolidated class-action cases filed by numerous employee benefit plans, a federal judge in New Jersey asserted that the providers did not breach their fiduciary duties through a fee/commission agreement with brokers for employer benefit plan business. Chief U.S. District Judge Garrett E. Brown Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a request from the defendant insurance providers and dismissed the cases.

The suits claimed that the ERISA fiduciary breaches occurred when the defendants did not disclose the amount of fees/commissions they paid to brokers for the employer plan business. The plaintiffs charged that the fees/commissions should have been disclosed on their Form 5500.

The defendants in the case were Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co., Prudential Insurance Co. of America, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., UNUM Life Insurance Co., AIG Insurance Co., and Connecticut General Life Insurance Co.

Brown accepted the insurance companies’ argument that while they may have exercised discretion in making benefit payment decisions, that did not mean they were ERISA fiduciaries in all situations. The court also ruled the plaintiffs had not proven their allegations that the insurance carriers misled them about the fee/commission arrangement when the plaintiffs asked about it.

The ruling in In re Employee-Benefit Insurance Brokerage Antitrust Litigation, D.N.J., No. 05-1079 (GEB), unpublished 1/14/08 is available here.