Atlantic Legal Urges Supreme Court to Consider Pension Plan Decision

Atlantic Legal has filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers in support of a petition for certiorari to be filed by the Rohm and Haas Pension Plan (the Plan) in Williams v. Rohm and Haas Pension Plan, on appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

In Williams v. Rohm and Haas Pension Plan, 497 F.3d 710 (7th Cir. 2007), the Seventh Circuit held that a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) offered by a defined benefit pension plan to participants who select monthly annuity payments at retirement constitutes part of the participants accrued benefit and therefore must be paid to all plan participants, including those who select a lump-sum distribution of their benefits. The court reached this conclusion even though the plan explicitly excluded the COLA from its definition of accrued benefit.

In its amicus brief, Atlantic Legal argued that Supreme Court review of the Seventh Circuits decision is warranted because the decision conflicts with decisions of the Fourth and Ninth Circuits interpreting the term accrued benefit under ERISA and that the Seventh Circuits decision has far-reaching implications for the viability of company-sponsored pension plans because the Seventh Circuits holding that a COLA is per se a component of a plan participants accrued benefit disrupts funding assumptions of plan sponsors and encourages retirees to take the lump-sum option, which increases the risk that retirees will exhaust their pension funds prematurely, the so-called longevity risk recognized by economists and consultants who specialize in pension issues.

We also argue that the Seventh Circuits per se approach to defining the accrued benefit is at odds with the plain language of ERISA and Supreme Court decisions, which explicitly provide that the scope of a participants accrued benefit is to be determined under the plan itself and that private parties, not the Government, control the level of benefits.

To view a copy of the Foundations brief, click here.