Plan Administrator Bears Burden to Produce Key Information Regarding Claimant’s Service and Benefits Eligibility

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on April 21, 2016 that where a claimant has made a prima facie case that he is entitled to a pension benefit, but lacks access to the key information about corporate structure, or hours worked, needed to substantiate his claim, and the defendant controls this information, the burden shifts to the defendant to produce this information. Estate of Bruce H. Barton v. ADT Security Services Pension Plan (9th Cir., 2016).

The Plan Administrator could not place the burden of producing records establishing which entities participated in the pension plan between 1967 and 1986, and the claimant’s service record, on the claimant where the Plan Administrator had no records of its own.

The Plan Administrator originally denied the claim on the basis of an absence of records establishing eligibility for plan participation, actual participation, or accrual of plan benefits.  This was wrong where the Committee rather than the claimant would likely be in possession of such records.

The lesson for Plan Administrators: keep plan documents,service records and contemporary records establishing benefit accruals forever -there is no practical document retention period for these documents.

The lesson for claimants: don’t be deterred from asserting a claim if you have enough evidence to state a prima facie case and the definitive documents or information ought to be in the Plan Administrator’s possession.

Estate of Bruce H. Barton v. ADT Security Services Pension Plan (9th Cir., 2016)

Author: Erwin Kratz

Erwin Kratz practices exclusively in the areas of ERISA and employee benefits law, focusing on tax and regulatory matters relating to qualified and nonqualified deferred compensation and welfare benefits.