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High Court Won't Hear GM Retirees' Lawsuit Challenging MetLife's Plan Communications

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

April 7 --The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it won't review an appellate court decision holding that a proposed class of General Motors Corp. retirees failed to state valid promissory estoppel and fiduciary breach claims against Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

In September 2013, a split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the retirees couldn't have reasonably relied on statements by MetLife that their insurance benefits would continue for life, because GM's welfare plan included an unambiguous reservation-of-rights clause explaining that benefits could be amended or terminated at any time (178 PBD, 9/13/13; 40 BPR 2197, 9/17/13; 56 EBC 1993).

The panel also rejected the retirees' fiduciary breach claim, finding that MetLife's statements weren't inaccurate or misleading, because they accurately reflected the terms of the GM plan in effect at that time.

One judge, Jane B. Stranch, authored a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. She criticized the majority's conclusion that the letters prepared by MetLife weren't inaccurate or misleading and said that the retirees stated valid claims for fiduciary breach and promissory estoppel.

In their petition for Supreme Court review, the retirees asked the high court whether an insurance carrier breaches its fiduciary obligation to communicate fully and accurately with plan participants by making an unqualified written representation that the amount of the participants' continuing life insurance benefits wouldn't be reduced for the rest of their lives.

They also asked whether plan participants are entitled to rely on an insurer's unqualified promise that participants' life insurance benefits wouldn't be reduced for the rest of their lives, and to bring an estoppel claim to enforce such promise.

The high court announced its decision April 7.

The petition was filed by Morganroth & Morganroth PC and Law Offices of Sheldon Miller PC.

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