In Kopelev v. The Boeing Company, et al., No. 21-55937, 2022 WL 17547807 (9th Cir. Dec. 9, 2022), Plaintiff Galina Kopelev sued the Boeing Company Voluntary Investment Plan seeking equitable relief under ERISA § 502(a)(3). Plaintiff’s deceased husband was a former employee of Boeing and a participant in the Plan when he died in 2013 at the age of 71. Kopelev v. The Boeing Company Voluntary Investment Plan, LACV 20-05805-VAP (C.D. Cal. Oct. 14, 2020). Plaintiff was the beneficiary of his Plan account, which the Plan required to be distributed when requested or the later of the date the participant would have attained the age of 70 ½ or December of the year that included the fifth anniversary of his death, which was December 2018. Plaintiff alleged that despite multiple conversations with Plan representatives, Boeing did not inform her that the Plan would require a distribution to Plaintiff of her beneficiary account by no later than December 2018. She further alleged that Plan representatives had discouraged her from rolling her account over to an individual retirement account because of an anticipated increase in the pricSe of Boeing stock. Without notice, the Plan distributed benefits to Plaintiff by check in December 2018. She alleged that this was a breach of fiduciary duty which caused her harm because the price of Boeing stock had declined significantly, she was assessed a large income tax withholding, and her Social Security benefits were reduced, all of which resulted in financial losses totaling $130,000.
Boeing filed a motion to dismiss, which the district court granted. Boeing argued that it is not a plan fiduciary under ERISA and the complaint does not identify a fiduciary duty recognized under ERISA. The court found that Plaintiff cannot state an ERISA breach of fiduciary duty claim against a defendant ERISA plan. Plaintiff’s complaint is also devoid of allegations showing that Defendant is a named fiduciary or a functional fiduciary. Additionally, the court found that Plaintiff’s complaint seeks compensatory damages in the form of monetary relief for all losses she sustained as a result of the alleged breach of fiduciary duty. The court found this relief to be money damages in the form of legal, not equitable, relief. This type of relief is not available under ERISA.
Proceeding pro se, Plaintiff filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a short unpublished memorandum opinion, the court affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiff’s ERISA equitable relief claim. The court explained that Kopelev does not adequately allege facts to establish that the Appellees violated ERISA or the terms of the plan or that the Appellees breached their fiduciary duty by failing to inform her affirmatively of the December 2018 distribution, or by withholding taxes from the distribution.” The court also determined that the district court’s dismissal of her claim with prejudice was not an abuse of discretion because any amendment of the claim would have been futile.
*Please note that this blog is a summary of a reported legal decision and does not constitute legal advice. This blog has not been updated to note any subsequent change in status, including whether a decision is reconsidered or vacated. The case above was handled by other law firms, but if you have questions about how the developing law impacts your ERISA benefit claim, the attorneys at Roberts Disability Law, P.C. may be able to advise you so please contact us.
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