Ninth Circuit Rules on Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim in Investment Options Case

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In Tibble v. Edison Int’l, 10-cv-56406, 2013 WL 1174167 (9th Cir. Mar. 21, 2013), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that 401(k) plan fiduciaries breached their duty of prudence in selecting investment options for the plan and unreasonably relied on a consultant’s advice because they could not prove that either they– or the consultant — considered institutional-class (instead of retail-class) shares of mutual funds as proper investments under the plan. The Court opined that fiduciaries must make certain that their reliance on a consultant’s advice is reasonably justified and cannot “reflexively and uncritically adopt [a consultant's] recommendations.” Notably, the Court made several other holdings, including: (i) ruling that that the statute of limitations for a fiduciary breach claim alleging that the plan’s investment menu was designed “imprudently” begins to run at the “act of designating an investment for inclusion” in the plan, not from the date fiduciaries of the plan failed to remove the investment option; (ii) that Section 404(c) of ERISA did not shield the plan fiduciaries from liability because that defense only applies where the alleged losses are a “direct and necessary result” of the participant’s decision; and (iii) affirming that the fiduciaries did not breach their fiduciary duties when choosing mutual funds, STIFs and a unitized company stock fund for the plan because those choices were “objectively reasonable as well as informed”, and “because the evidence establish[ed] that the [fiduciaries] oversaw the fund as conditions change.”