Thursday, October 28, 2010

Court Hands Down SunTrust ERISA "Stock Drop" Decision

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia dismissed portions of an ERISA "stock-drop lawsuit" brought by employees who alleged that SunTrust should have dumped its stock as a pension plan investment option in light of the financial difficulties it faced because of the subprime meltdown. See In re SunTrust Banks Inc. ERISA Litigation, N.D. Ga., No. 1:08-CV-3384-RWS, 10/25/10. The District Court followed the trend of other courts within the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, by ruling that the employees' imprudent investment claim failed because they were simply alleging that the fiduciaries of SunTrust's retirement plans should have better diversified the plan. According to the court, there is no duty to diversify eligible individual account plans that invest in employer stock. The court also noted that it was not adopting the “presumption of prudence” often used in other ERISA stock-drop cases. The court also dismissed the employees' claim that plan fiduciaries breached their ERISA duties by making false statements in Securities and Exchange Commission filings and other documents that were distributed to plan participants. The court said that even assuming that an ERISA claim can be based on false or misleading SEC filings incorporated into plan documents, here the employees' complaint failed to identify any false or misleading statements contained within any of the incorporated SEC filings. The court did rule, however, that the employees could continue in part with their claim that the plan fiduciaries breached their ERISA fiduciary duties by failing to provide plan participants with information about SunTrust stock that would allow them to accurately evaluate their investment in the stock.