The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed several issues of first impression in Bafford v. Northrop Grumman (9th Cir. April 15, 2021), a lawsuit involving retirees who received vastly overstated pension benefit estimates from the plan’s recordkeeper reminds employers of the importance of careful administration. The case highlights the need to ensure that electronic recordkeeping systems and tools align with the plan terms. Participant requests for plan or benefit information using online portals or other electronic means still demand timely and accurate responses as required by ERISA’s disclosure requirements.
On appeal from the district court, the Ninth Circuit agreed that the participants’ ERISA fiduciary claims should have been dismissed, aligning with the First and the Fourth Circuit’s view that a named fiduciary is only liable for a fiduciary breach if they are performing a fiduciary function. The court said that calculating pension benefits using a pre-set formula is a ministerial function, not a fiduciary function. So a miscalculation error would not create a breach of fiduciary duty claim.
Author(s): Craig A. Day, Suzanne G. Odom
Publication Date: 25 April 2021
Publication Site: The National Law Review