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Confer v. Custom Engineering Co.

filed: December 19, 1991.

RICKY CONFER AND HOLLY CONFER, AND ERIE INDEMNITY COMPANY APPELLANTS
v.
CUSTOM ENGINEERING COMPANY, THEODORE E. FLOWER AND PETER TRAPHAGEN; CUSTOM ENGINEERING CO. EMPLOYEE BENEFIT PLAN, A/K/A CUSTOM ENGINEERING CO. EMPLOYEE HEALTH BENEFIT PROGRAM, CUSTOM ENGINEERING COMPANY, TRUSTEE
v.
SELF-FUNDED PLANS, INC., AND MANUFACTURERS LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil No. 89-00069E)

Before: Mansmann, Nygaard and Seitz, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mansmann

Opinion OF THE COURT

MANSMANN, Circuit Judge.

In this ERISA action, we are asked to decide whether corporate officers of a plan administrator, as individuals, are fiduciaries under section 3(21)(A) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. ยง 1002(21)(A). We must also decide whether a "plan supervisor," who denies a claim on the basis of a written plan document, is a fiduciary under section 3(21)(A). We hold that individual officers of an ERISA plan's fiduciary are not fiduciaries by virtue of their offices, and that a plan supervisor who merely calculates claims according to a plan document is not a fiduciary. We will affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of these parties.

I.

Plaintiff Ricky Confer worked for Custom Engineering Company. Defendants Theodore Flower and Peter Traphagen own 94 per cent of Custom Engineering. Flower is president and Traphagen, vice president.

Custom Engineering provided Confer with medical benefits through the Custom Engineering Company Employee Health Benefit Plan. The Plan designated Custom Engineering as administrator and named fiduciary. The Plan also provided that Custom Engineering could delegate day-to-day administrative tasks to a "Plan Supervisor." The Plan Supervisor was Self-Funded Plans, Inc., whose responsibilities included drafting a new plan, handling claims, and arranging for excess insurance.

On June 1, 1985, Confer was injured in a motorcycle accident. After Confer's accident, Custom Engineering -- through its officers -- had Self-Funded prepare an amendment excluding motorcycle accidents from coverage. Sometime after Confer's accident and before July 31, 1985, Custom Engineering's president signed the amendment, backdating its effective date to April 10, 1985. In September of 1985, Self-Funded denied Confer's claim based on the backdated amendment; at that time, an officer of Self-Funded knew that the amendment had not been in effect when Confer's accident occurred on June 1, 1985.

Confer brought this action against the Plan to recover benefits, and against Custom Engineering, Flower, Traphagen and Self-Funded for breach of fiduciary duty. The district court held that the Plan covered Confer's claim and that Custom Engineering -- through the actions of its officers Flower and Traphagen -- had breached its fiduciary duty by backdating the amendment. That holding was the subject of a separate appeal at No. 91-3246; we have affirmed the judgment of the district court in a separate Per Curiam Opinion.

Confer here appeals from the district court's determination, on summary judgment, that, as a matter of law, Flower, Traphagen and Self-Funded were not fiduciaries.*fn1 Our review of an order of summary judgment is plenary. Country Floors, Inc. v. Partnership of Gepner & Ford, 930 F.2d 1056, 1060, 18 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1577 (3d Cir. 1991); Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1038, 50 L. Ed. 2d 748 [205, 97 S. Ct. 732 (1977). We thus "apply the same test the district court should have utilized initially." Colgan v. Fisher Scientific Co., 935 F.2d 1407, 1413 (3d. Cir. 1991) (quoting Goodman), cert. denied, 116 L. Ed. 2d 330, 60 U.S.L.W. 3342, 112 S. Ct. 379 (U.S. Nov. 4, 1991)(No. 91-461).

II.

Section 3(21)(A) of ERISA defines a fiduciary.

[A] person is a fiduciary with respect to a plan to the extent (i) he exercises any discretionary authority or discretionary control respecting management of such plan or exercises any authority or control respecting management or disposition of its assets, . . . or (iii) he has any discretionary authority or discretionary responsibility in the administration of such ...


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