On April 1, 2020, Judge Janet Hall of the District of Connecticut ruled in favor of McKennon Law Group PC’s clients in their ERISA lawsuit against the administrator of their pension benefits, Henkel of America, Inc. Henkel had previously denied their claim for pension benefits, and our clients sued Henkel to obtain the benefits they are owed. One of our clients had previously worked for 12 years for a company whose pension plan liability was subsequently acquired by Henkel. Judge Hall pointed out many weaknesses in Henkel’s denial decision, including the fact that Henkel relied almost entirely on a single list of pension obligations that it had acquired, even though it had other evidence in its possession that called the validity of that list into question. For example, Henkel failed to investigate the records of the Third-Party Administrator hired by Henkel and the court pointed out other serious deficiencies in how Henkel handled our clients’ claim and requests for records. As she noted, “Henkel also had a duty ‘to investigate a claim for benefits and develop the reasonably available evidence.’” Hippe v. Life Ins. Co. of North America, No. 02-CV-86 (ILG), 2003 WL 22220749, at *9 (E.D.N.Y. July 31, 2003) (collecting cases). Henkel failed to fulfill this duty and created an administrative record that was inadequate for judicial review. The documents produced in the course of discovery filled some of the gaps, and raised doubts as to the basis upon which Henkel denied our clients’ claim for benefits.
We had several strategic victories along the way that contributed to winning this case for our clients. We prevailed on a motion for discovery. Discovery is rarely permitted in matters governed by ERISA, yet we convinced Judge Hall that it should be permitted in this matter. This discovery helped us to convince the court to apply a de novo standard of review to the claim under Halo v. Yale Health Plan, Dir. of Benefits & Records Yale Univ., 819 F.3d 42, 45 (2d Cir. 2016). We also successfully defeated an attempt to dismiss the entire case based upon statute of limitations and laches arguments. This was a hard-fought case in which Henkel was represented by one of the top pension defense firms in the country.
The Court entered judgment that remanded the matter to Henkel and required that Henkel properly investigate our clients’ pension claim. This decision led Henkel to pay our clients pension benefits and attorneys’ fees per a confidential settlement agreement.