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Tolbert v. RBC Capital Marlets Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 14, 2014

BRENDA TOLBERT; JOSEPH RICE NEUHAUS, JR.; and LAWRENCE GIFT, JR., Plaintiffs--Appellants,
v.
RBC CAPITAL MARKETS CORPORATION, now known as RBC Capital Markets, L.L.C.; RBC CENTURA BANK, now known as RBC Bank, (USA); RBC U.S. INSURANCE SERVICES, INCORPORATED, Defendants--Appellees

Page 620

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

For Brenda Tolbert, Joseph Rice Neuhaus, Jr., Lawrence Gift, Jr., Plaintiffs - Appellants: Stacy R. Obenhaus, Joe B. Harrison, Trial Attorney, William G. Whitehill, Gardere Wynne Sewell, L.L.P., Dallas, TX; Geoffrey Houston Bracken, Esq., Trial Attorney, Gardere Wynne Sewell, L.L.P., Houston, TX.

For Rbc Capital Markets Corporation, now known as: RBC Capital Markets, L.L.C., Rbc Centura Bank, now known as: RBC Bank, (USA), Rbc U.S. Insurance Services, Incorporated, Defendants - Appellees: Sari M. Alamuddin, Christopher Joseph Boran, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, L.L.P., Chicago, IL; Alison Jacobs Gates, Friedkin Companies, Houston, TX; Allyson Newton Ho, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, L.L.P., Dallas, TX.

For Securities Industry And Financial Markets Association, Amicus Curiae: Gregory Frederick Jacob, Esq., Litigation Counsel, O'Melveny & Myers, L.L.P., Washington, DC; Anton Metlitsky, O'Melveny & Myers, L.L.P., New York, NY.

Before DAVIS, BARKSDALE, and ELROD, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 621

JENNIFER WALKER ELROD, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiffs in this case are former employees of the defendant (" RBC" ) who participated in a wealth accumulation plan (" WAP" ) during their periods of employment. Giving rise to this lawsuit, portions of the plaintiffs' WAP accounts were forfeited when the plaintiffs left their jobs at RBC. The plaintiffs allege that the forfeitures amounted to violations of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (" ERISA" ). The district court granted RBC's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the WAP is not subject to ERISA because it is not an " employee pension benefit plan." We conclude that the WAP is an " employee pension benefit plan" and therefore REVERSE and REMAND.

I.

A.

An ambitious statutory scheme, ERISA is designed " to protect . . . the interests of participants in employee benefit plans and their beneficiaries" by (1) " requiring the disclosure and reporting to participants and beneficiaries" ; (2) " establishing standards of conduct, responsibility, and obligation for fiduciaries of employee benefit plans" ; and (3) " providing for appropriate remedies, sanctions, and ready access to the Federal courts." 29 U.S.C. § 1001(b). The primary enforcement mechanism is located in 29 U.S.C. § 1132, which is titled " Civil enforcement." See Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 208, 124 S.Ct. 2488, 159 L.Ed.2d 312 (2004) (" This integrated enforcement mechanism, [§ 1132(a)], is a distinctive feature of ERISA, and essential to accomplish Congress' purpose of creating a comprehensive statute for the regulation of employee benefit plans." ). Section 1132(a) creates, among other things, a private cause of action against a fiduciary who breaches his fiduciary duties vis-à-vis an employee benefit plan. See Tiblier v. Dlabal, 743 F.3d 1004, 1007 (5th Cir. 2014) (declining to determine whether defendant satisfied " ERISA's strict fiduciary duties" because defendant " was not a fiduciary as defined by ERISA" ).

Here, ERISA coverage turns not on whether the defendant is a fiduciary but on whether the WAP is an " employee pension benefit plan" (or " pension plan" ) under 29 U.S.C. § 1002(2)(A). A " pension plan" is

any plan, fund, or program . . . maintained by an employer . . . to the extent that by its express terms or as a result of surrounding circumstances such plan, fund, or program
(i) provides retirement income to employees, or
(ii) results in a deferral of income by employees for periods extending to the termination of covered employment or beyond,
regardless of the method of calculating the contributions made to the plan, the method of calculating the benefits under the plan or the method of distributing benefits from the plan. . . .

§ 1002(2)(A)(i)-(ii). Thus, if the WAP is a " pension plan," ERISA applies, and the plaintiffs may proceed ...


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