Latest Supreme Court Decisions Favor Felons, Police and Pension Beneficiaries

It’s spring time – which means it’s the time of year that the Supreme Court begins issuing decisions on the cases they have heard throughout the term. While we wait for the big decisions on marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act, there are several just as important issues being decided. In their latest round of decisions, clarification was made on the gun rights for felons, police immunity, and the rights of employees to sue over their retirement funds.

In 2008, Tony Henderson was convicted of felony distribution of marijuana. Per federal law, this made him ineligible to own or otherwise be in possession of a firearm. At the time, Henderson lawfully owned a personal firearm as well as a collection of antique ones. After surrendering all of them as a condition of his bail, Henderson requested to sell the collection after his conviction. Federal authorities denied the request. Henderson filed a motion in a federal district court, which was also denied. The court ruled that by giving Henderson the right to sell them would amount to possession, which was not allowed. The Supreme Court disagreed.

In a unanimous decision, SCOTUS ruled in Henderson v. United States that authorities do not have the right to hold surrendered firearms indefinitely, but can place restrictions on the process of transfer. In Henderson’s case, he wanted to sell the collection to a friend. SCOTUS noted that authorities have a right to ensure that the recipient will not allow the felon to obtain possession of the firearms, but cannot prevent felons from disposing of them in a legal manner. Authorities also have a right to ensure that the felon will never physically control the firearms during the transfer and recommended that the transfer go through an authorized dealer.

In a 6-2 decision, SCOTUS granted immunity to two officers who were being sued for shooting a mentally ill woman, while not really ruling on the issues brought forth in City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan. In 2008, the two officers responded to a call about a violent mentally ill woman who had barred herself in her room at a group home. When they opened the door with a key, she lunged at them with a knife. After being unable to subdue her with pepper spray, they shot her, wounding her in the process. She later sued, saying that they violated her Fourth Amendment Rights, as well as violated the Americans Disability Act, which she claimed required the police to take steps to accommodate her disability.

With Justice Stephen G. Breyer recusing himself because his brother had ruled on the case in the lower court, a majority of the remaining justices ruled that the officers were “reasonable” in their use of force when entering her room. This granted them immunity from the Constitutional claim. They did not, however, decide on whether there was any violation under the ADA and instead returned it to the lower court for further litigation. This means the officers could still be liable if the lower court rules that the officers were required to make additional accommodations.

For employees that participate in their company’s 401(k) and other pension plans, the Court has given them more options to seek redress when a company fails to properly conduct their fiduciary duties. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is a 1974 law that sets the minimum standards for private companies’ retirement plans. The law covers financial disclosures, legal remedies in the federal courts, as well as fiduciary responsibility of trustees. Under ERISA, trustees are required to make “prudent” decisions when deciding which assets (usually a mixture of various financial products) should be included in the plan.

The question before the Court in Tibble v. Edison International was whether there is an ongoing duty to monitor the assets and then remove imprudent ones. In this case, beneficiaries of Edison’s 401(k) plan argued that Edison failed to protect them from significant losses due to under performing assets that were added at different times. Lower courts decided in favor of Edison on a technicality – that the beneficiaries did not file their claim within the six year statutory window. This essentially said that the fiduciary responsibility only applies at the time of investment.

In their unanimous decision, SCOTUS ruled that trustees must continually monitor the plans to make sure the funds remain sound. While the investment may have been prudent at the time, they have a continuing responsibility to monitor and make change as appropriate to protect the pension’s investments. Therefore, the legal remedies provided under ERISA are still available for beneficiaries as long as the claim is filed within six years of the alleged breach of continuing duty. The case did not address whether there was a breach, but simply that the case could continue since the claim was made within the statutory time frame.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

41 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle3 years ago

I was a little surprised. It would appear that the high court may have made some good decisions.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thanks

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Lori Hone
Lori Hone3 years ago

They all seem reasonable decisions

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Cathleen K.
Cathleen K3 years ago

These were all very reasonable decisions, and I'm delighted that they ruled that companies have a continued duty to monitor the prudence of investments in pension plans (and shocked, too!).

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Hussein Khalil
Hussein Khalil3 years ago

thanks

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Debbi -.
Debbi -3 years ago

Let us hope their next decisions will be favorable, too.

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Barbara S.
Barbara S.3 years ago

I just want to address people who have family collectible weapons when they are arrested for a crime with a different weapon.

Some weapons have been handed down from as far back as the Civil War. If indeed the collectibles are meant to be passed on later to family members, then this should be allowed to happen, even if they must be transferred earlier than expected. They can either be rendered unable to be fired, or they can be placed in a bank vault in the names of the relatives meant to inherit them. If they were meant to one day be sold, then a trustee can be named to take possession and sell now or at a later time with the proceeds going to the present own, without him/her ever taking actual possession of them again.

This is fair and just.

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Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

Thanks for the post.

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