Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...
One judge thought to be on President Donald Trump’s short list for elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court could mean good news for workers involved in disputes over employee benefits.
Since his appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 2007 by President George W. Bush, Judge Thomas M. Hardiman has signed on to several decisions favoring workers who attempt to enforce their rights under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. He’s twice joined opinions offering a broad view of ERISA standing in disputes over medical payments, and in 2015 he added his name to a decision placing the burden of demonstrating administrative exhaustion on plan administrators rather than the participants challenging denied benefits.
If Hardiman is nominated to the Supreme Court and confirmed later this spring, he may be in a position to recuse himself from one high-profile ERISA dispute. Hardiman was on the three-judge panel that in 2015 refused to allow New Jersey hospital Saint Peter’s Healthcare System to run its pension plan as an ERISA-exempt church plan. That decision, along with two similar rulings by the Seventh and Ninth circuits, is currently under review by the Supreme Court, and the court’s ultimate decision could affect dozens of ongoing lawsuits and the pension benefits of more than 300,000 hospital workers.
Two of Hardiman’s ERISA rulings have affirmed the ability of health plan participants to assign the right to sue over plan benefits to their medical providers. N. Jersey Brain & Spine Ctr. v. Aetna, Inc., 801 F.3d 369 (3d Cir. 2015), held that standing to bring an ERISA lawsuit could be assigned even on an assignment form that didn’t specifically mention this right. Earlier this year, Franco v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 647 Fed. Appx. 76 (3d Cir. 2016), built off that ruling to find that medical providers had standing to challenge an insurer’s methodology for determining service fees.
In one worker-protective decision, Am. Chiropractic Ass’n v. Am. Specialty Health, Inc., 625 Fed. Appx. 169 (3d Cir. 2015), Hardiman was on a panel that placed the burden of proving administrative exhaustion—a common way for ERISA plans to avoid liability for denied benefits—on the plan defendant, rather than on the worker seeking benefits.
Hardiman has been less friendly toward workers accusing companies of retaliating against them for benefits-related issues, joining two decisions ruling against workers who’ve tried to challenge their terminations under ERISA Section 510’s anti-retaliation provision. In particular, Edwards v. A.H. Cornell & Son, Inc., 610 F.3d 217 (3d Cir. 2010), held that Section 510 doesn’t protect a worker who is fired after making informal, unsolicited complaints about the way an employer runs its benefit plans.
Trump has promised to unveil his nominee for the Supreme Court seat formerly held by Justice Antonin Scalia on Feb. 2. Other judges thought to be in the running are Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit and William H. Pryor Jr. of the Eleventh Circuit.
Hardiman could have a leg up on his rumored competitors, though. Since his appointment to the Third Circuit in 2007, he’s sat on the same court with Senior Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who is the president’s older sister.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)