Federal Judge Certifies Class Against ILWU-PMA Welfare Plan in Lawsuit Alleging ERISA Violations

Federal Judge Certifies Class Against ILWU-PMA Welfare Plan in Lawsuit Alleging ERISA Violations


On August 1, 2017 US District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald issued an order granting class certification against ILWU-PMA Welfare Plan and its third party administrator, Zenith American Solutions, for breach of fiduciary duty.

According to court records;

“Plaintiffs’ claims seeking removal of the Plan’s fiduciaries raise issues that apply generally to the class, and thus a class can be certified under Rule 23(b)(1).’

As part of his rationale for certifying class, the judge explained, “Because the underlying issue does not turn on the approval or denial of any given claim for benefits, but rather on Defendants’ course of conduct as a whole, the issues discussed above do not preclude class certification on the fiduciary claims.

ILWU-PMA and Zenith argued class should be denied because the plaintiffs failed to exhaust the administrative remedy, but the court disagreed, “Defendants contend that typicality and adequacy of representation are not met because Lead Plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. But exhaustion is not required for claims alleging a breach of fiduciary duty. Spinedex Physical Therapy USA Inc. v. United Healthcare of Arizona, Inc., 770 F.3d1282, 1294 (9th Cir. 2014). Accordingly, exhaustion is no bar to certifying the class, and the requirements of Rule 23(a) are met.

ILWU-PMA and Zenith next argued class should be denied because the proposed class is not “cohesive” and therefore presents very little risk of “inconsistent judgments” going forward. However the court again disagreed, “The relief requested, however, would benefit all Plan members in the same way, and thus the class is sufficiently cohesive.”

“Moreover, the risk of inconsistent judgments is apparent from the face of the claim: If each of the four Lead Plaintiffs brought individual actions seeking removal of Zenith and the PMA Trustees in four separate courts, and half were granted the requested injunctive relief while the other half were not, the Plan would be required both to remove and not to remove Zenith and the PMA Trustees.

Ultimately, this ruling should serve as a wake-up call to all Plan Administrators and Fiduciaries, to ensure any and all TPAs are acting in the best interest of the members and their beneficiaries. Thus avoiding costly litigation and possible penalties.

In the case, which we have written about before, plaintiffs sued the International Longshore Workers Union-Pacific Maritime Association Welfare Plan, (ILWU-PMA) and its third party administrator, Zenith American Solutions (Zenith) for failing to properly administer and pay benefit entitlements to the employees of ILWU and their beneficiaries. The suit also named Pacific Maritime Association trustees, who manage the plan, individually, saying that they were not acting in the best interest of employees.

Case Info: Amijo et al v. ILWU-PMA Coastwise et al U.S. District Court for the Central District of CA (Western Division- Los Angeles) Civil Docket for Case #: 2:15-cv-1403, Filed 02/26/2015.

The original complaint alleged Zenith, and its agent TC3, failed to properly process member medical claims leading to many claims going unpaid, and members having to foot the medical bills out of pocket. According to the complaint: 

“the backlog of unpaid medical bills increased dramatically in early 2013. According to the Interim Report, by the summer of 2013, there were 286,000 unprocessed claims from the Cigna era, and there were also growing numbers of unprocessed claims from the Zenith era.’

After an arbitrators hearing, Zenith assured the ILWU employees their claims would be processed and paid in a timely manner, but that did not happen, and in fact the backlog grew even worse, according to court records,

“Although Zenith promised [it] would, put in place mechanisms to address the backlog of unpaid medical bills, in the latter half of 2013 the backlog became worse, with about 90,000 new claims each month.”

Ultimately, the members sued the plan in a class action, seeking benefits and the removal of the fiduciaries for failing to monitor administration of the Plan. The suit also alleged Zenith and the PMA Trustees’ breach of their fiduciary duty harmed the Plan as a whole by, among other things, causing doctors to stop providing services the the employees and their beneficiaries.




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