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Lee v. NG Groep

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 25, 2016

Curtis F. Lee, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ING Groep, N. V., a Dutch entity; Reliastar Life Insurance Company, a Minnesota corporation; ING Employee Benefits Disability Management Services, a Minnesota corporation; ING North America Insurance Corporation, a Delaware corporation; ING Investment Management, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company; Kimberly Shattuck; General RE Corporation, a Delaware corporation, Defendants-Appellees. Curtis F. Lee, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ING North America Insurance Corporation, a Delaware corporation, Defendant-Appellant, and General RE Corporation, a Delaware corporation; ING Groep, N.V., a Dutch entity; Reliastar Life Insurance Company, a Minnesota corporation; ING Employee Benefits Disability Management Services, a Minnesota corporation; ING Investment Management, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company; Kimberly Shattuck, Defendants.

          Argued and Submitted May 9, 2016 San Francisco, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona Roslyn O. Silver, Senior District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:12-cv-00042-ROS

          Thomas A. Connelly (argued) and Leo R. Beus, Beus Gilbert PLLC, Phoenix, Arizona, for Plaintiff-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

          Gregory A. Bromen (argued) and William D. Hittler, Nilan Johnson Lewis PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Ann-Martha Andrews and Lawrence A. Kasten, Lewis & Roca LLP, Phoenix, Arizona; for Defendant-Appellees

          ReliaStar Life Insurance Company, ING Investment Management, LLC, and Kimberley Shattuck, and Defendant-Appellee/Cross-Appellant ING North America Insurance Corporation.

          Larry P. Schiffer (argued), Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP, New York, New York; Aaron A. Boschee, Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP, Denver, Colorado; for Defendant-Appellee General Re Life Corporation.

          Before: Jerome Farris, Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Employee Retirement Income Security Act

         The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's summary judgment in favor of the defendants in an action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, vacated an award of statutory penalties in favor of the plaintiff, and remanded.

         Affirming in part, the panel held that the district court properly imposed a penalty under 29 US.C. § 1132(c)(1) on the ERISA plan administrator for failing to produce the Plan Document within 30 days of the plaintiff's request.

         The panel reversed the district court's decision to impose a penalty based on the plan administrator's failure to timely produce emails. Following other circuits, the panel held that 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1(h)(2)(iii) imposes requirements on benefits plans, not plan administrators. Accordingly, a failure to comply with this regulation cannot give rise to a penalty under § 1132(c)(1), which applies only to documents that plan administrators are required to produce. The panel concluded that it was not bound by dicta in Sgro v. Danone Waters of N. Am., Inc., 532 F.3d 940 (9th Cir. 2008). The panel remanded for the district court to assess a penalty based solely on the failure to timely produce the Plan Document.

          OPINION FARRIS, Senior Circuit Judge

         Curtis Lee is a former employee of ING Investment Management, LLC. Through his employment, Lee participated in a long term disability plan that is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. See 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. ING North America Insurance Corporation was the plan administrator for this long term disability plan. Lee applied for long term disability benefits under the plan, which he received for a while, but then his benefits were terminated. Lee filed a lawsuit against ING Investment Management, ING North America, and others, seeking inter alia, statutory penalties against ING North America for failing to timely produce documents he had requested. See 29 U.S.C. ยง 1132(c)(1). The district court granted summary judgment to Lee on this claim and imposed a penalty of $27, 475. Lee appealed other ...


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