After 13 years, Haddock v. Nationwide settles for $140,000,000

On Friday December 12, 2014, the parties in Haddock v. Nationwide filed a motion for the court to approve a settlement worth $140,000,000. Originally filed in 2001, the lawsuit concerned the plaintiffs’ allegation that Nationwide received undisclosed revenue sharing payments from non-proprietary mutual funds in violation of ERISA.

The procedural history is extensive with 6 published orders from the court and multiple trips to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. A more thorough background of the case is included in the motion seeking settlement.

As noted above, the $140,000,000 is split between two different certified classes, with $110,000,000 for one and $30,000,000 for the other. The plaintiffs’ will seek up to 35% of the settlement amount in attorney’s fees or $49,000,000 and up to $2,000,000 in costs.

The settlement also calls for extensive non-monetary relief:

Defendants will supplement the disclosures for its new group variable annuity customer proposals, its new group variable annuity contracts, and its plan sponsor website that relate to Mutual Fund-related fees and expenses in connection with group variable annuity products. Defendants will also add language in new customer proposals or plan sponsor website(s) informing trustees of Plans holding group variable annuity contracts of the opportunity to be transferred to a product where Mutual Fund Payments are credited to the Plan in the form of reduced asset fees in an amount equivalent to the disclosed reimbursement rate received for each Mutual Fund investment option.

Defendants will also supplement the disclosures for its new individual variable annuity customer proposals and its new product prospectuses that relate to Mutual Fund-related fees and expenses in connection with individual variable  annuity products with specific language in these disclosures that Nationwide shall provide, upon Plan Trustees’ written request, its best estimate of plan-specific, aggregate data regarding the Mutual Fund Payments received in connection with the Plan’s investments for the previous calendar year.

Defendants will also supplement the disclosures for its trust customer proposals, new trust, custodial, services or program agreements, and plan sponsor website that relate to Mutual Fund-related fees and expenses in connection with trust products. Defendants will also add language to the new customer proposals; trust, custodial, service or program agreements; or plan sponsor website(s) informing trustees of Plans holding group variable annuity contracts of the opportunity to be transferred to a product where Mutual Fund Payments are credited to the Plan in the form of reduced asset fees in an amount equivalent to the disclosed reimbursement rate received for each Mutual Fund investment option.

Defendants will enhance the procedures for certain future changes to the Product Menus in connection with Annuity Contracts and the Program Menus for the Trust Platforms as follows:

For group variable annuity products and Trust Platforms, Defendants will specifically identify to Plan Trustees, via mail, electronic delivery, or Defendants’ plan sponsor website, any addition of a Mutual Fund investment option to a Product Menu or Program Menu at the time of the addition. Defendants will update the new customer proposals; trust, custodial, service or program agreements; or plan sponsor website(s), as applicable, to inform Plan trustees that such Product and Program Menu additions are identified on the plan sponsor websites.

For group variable annuity products and Trust Platforms, Defendants will provide to Plan trustees written notice of any removal or substitution of a Mutual Fund investment option from the Product and Program Menus that is initiated solely by Defendants, and will not remove or substitute that fund from the Product or Program Menu for a particular Plan until it has received affirmative consent from that Plan’s trustee(s). Such notice shall be provided via mail, electronic delivery, or published on the plan sponsor websites at least thirty (30) days prior to the removal or substitution of a Mutual Fund investment option, and shall state the effective date of such removal or substitution. Defendants will update their new customer proposals; trust, custodial, service or program agreements; or plan sponsor website(s), as applicable, to inform Plan trustees that such removals or substitutions from the Product and Program Menus are identified on the plan sponsor websites.

For group variable annuity products and Trust Platforms, Defendants generally will not substitute one fund for another or otherwise unilaterally remove or substitute a fund from a Plan Menu. Defendants will confirm this change in their business practices by modifying their contracts  and Trust Platforms to eliminate any authority to unilaterally remove or substitute a fund from a Menu (the group variable annuity modifications will be subject to State insurance department approval).

For group variable annuity products, in those circumstances where a substitution or removal is necessitated by the actions of Mutual Funds (such as decisions by Mutual Funds or corresponding separate accounts to liquidate a fund, merge funds, change investment advisers or sub-advisers, or make other changes that prevent Nationwide Life from offering an investment option on the Plan Menu, or otherwise require Nationwide Life to change the Plan Menu), where administratively feasible, Nationwide Life will provide sixty (60) days written notice to the trustee of each Plan affected by the change via notice sent by first class mail, fax, or email. The notice will: (1) explain the proposed modification to the Plan Menu; (2) fully disclose any resulting changes in the Mutual Fund Payment rate received by Nationwide; (3) identify the effective date of the change; (4) explain the Plan trustee’s right to terminate the Annuity Contract; and (5) reiterate that, pursuant to the contract provisions agreed to by the Plan trustee, failure to object or otherwise respond shall be deemed to be consent to the proposed change. Nationwide Life will confirm this change in their business practice by modifying their existing and future Annuity Contracts to reflect this notice process (the Annuity Contract modifications will be subject to State insurance department approval).

For Trust Platforms, NFS has enhanced its notification procedures in those circumstances where a substitution or removal is necessitated by the actions of Mutual Funds (such as decisions by Mutual Funds or corresponding separate accounts to liquidate a fund, merge funds, change investment advisers or sub-advisers, make other changes that prevent NFS from offering an investment option on the Plan Menu, or otherwise require NFS to change the Plan Menu). These notification enhancements are substantially the same as the proposed enhancements to the group variable annuity products’ notification procedures.

For Individual Variable Annuities, Nationwide Life agrees to follow applicable U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, including notice requirements, with regard to the addition, substitution or removal of any investment option.

As part of the Settlement, current and future group variable annuity contract holders and those holding trust, custodial, services or program agreements, shall be offered the opportunity to be transferred to a product or Trust Platform where Mutual Fund Payments are credited to the Plan in the form of reduced asset fees in an amount equivalent to the disclosed reimbursement rate received for each Mutual Fund investment option. Defendants agree that they will continue to make available at least one Trust Platform offering for which Mutual Fund Payments are passed through in their entirety and/or the Mutual Fund Payment amounts are disclosed, subject to the restrictions on Defendants’ ability to substitute one fund for another as set forth in the Stipulation.

Defendants shall begin to implement these changes within six (6) months of the Settlement Effective Date, and will make diligent and good faith efforts to ensure that the implementation of these changes is concluded within twelve (12) months of the Settlement Effective Date, unless there is a change in applicable law or regulatory policy that renders any change or practice unlawful or impracticable or imposes different disclosure or other substantive requirements.

Our Thoughts

Needless to say, this is the most substantial settlement ever in an ERISA fiduciary breach case involving the receipt of revenue sharing by a service provider. It is unclear from the settlement how much of the conduct at issue in the lawsuit is still being done by Nationwide. Nonetheless, this settlement is nearly 10 times greater than recent settlements against ING (see ING Settles ERISA Class Action Lawsuit Over Revenue Sharing Practices) and MassMutual (see MassMutual Settles Excessive Fee Lawsuit).

 

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