A U.S. District Court judge in Washington dismissed an ERISA fiduciary breach claim by a participant in two defined contribution plans managed by The George Washington University, saying the plaintiff lacked standing to sue.
The complaint was dismissed because the participant, a former university employee, had signed a confidential settlement agreement with university in 2016, wrote U.S. District Judge John Bates in a July 15 opinion. "The court lacks subject matters jurisdiction over released claims," the judge wrote. The settlement agreement included a "general release" provision insulating the university from future legal claims covered by several federal laws — but not ERISA.
The plaintiff, Melissa Stanley, "does not dispute that she voluntarily executed, and is subject to, the agreement's terms, including the general release," the judge wrote in the case of Stanley vs. The George Washington University et al.
Ms. Stanley sued the university in April 2018 claiming, among other things that, its retirement plans charged "unreasonable" record-keeping and administrative fees and offered expensive and underperforming investment options. Her lawsuit sought class-action status.
The university moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Ms. Stanley lacked standing to sue.
She countered that her complaint should be allowed because the general release provision allows for "claims for vested benefits under employee benefits plans" and because ERISA wasn't identified as being covered by the release document.
Her argument saying "the release lists numerous federal statutes but does not include ERISA is unpersuasive," the judge wrote. "The court finds that Stanley has released her claims under the agreement and thus lacks standing to sue."
The George Washington University Retirement Plan for Faculty and Staff, a 401(a) plan, had assets of $990.3 million as of Dec. 31, 2017, according to the latest Form 5500 filing. The George Washington University Supplemental Retirement Plan, a 403(b) plan, had assets of $1.2 billion as of Dec. 31, 2017, as of Dec. 31, 2017, according to the latest Form 5500 filing.