Opinion Date: September 5, 2012
Areas of Law: Banking, Class Action, ERISA, Securities Law
Former Fifth Third employees participated in a defined contribution retirement plan with Fifth Third as trustee. Participants make voluntary contributions and direct the Plan to purchase investments for their individual accounts from preselected options. The options included Fifth Third Stock, two collective funds, or 17 mutual funds. Fifth Third makes matching contributions for eligible participants that are initially invested in the Fifth Third Stock Fund but may be moved later to other investment options. Significant Plan assets were invested in Fifth Third Stock. Plan fiduciaries incorporated by reference Fifth Third’s SEC filings into the Summary Plan Description. Plaintiffs allege that Fifth Third switched from being a conservative lender to a subprime lender, its loan portfolio became increasingly at-risk, and it either failed to disclose or provided misleading disclosures. The price of the stock declined 74 percent. The district court dismissed a complaint under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001, based on a presumption that the decision to remain invested in employer securities was reasonable. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the complaint plausibly alleged a claim of breach of fiduciary duty and causal connection regarding failure to divest the Plan of Fifth Third Stock and remove that stock as an investment option.