Case Shows Importance of Keeping Documentation

November 18, 2013 ( – A federal district court in northern Indiana ruled a retirement plan sponsor must pay nearly $4,500 in penalties for failing to provide historical, plan-related documents.

In Hartman v. Dana Holding Corp (case 1:12-cv-00445-RBC), the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana levied $4,470 in penalties against Dana Holding after the company failed to provide a deceased participant’s widowed spouse with retirement plan documents that took effect in 1979. Elaine Hartman filed the suit in 2011 following the death of her husband, who had worked 24 years for Dana Holding or companies that the manufacturing firm has acquired, case documents show.

After her husband’s death, Hartman contacted Dana to inquire about a survivor annuity and was told her husband had elected against such an annuity in 1979. Hartman then requested the relevant plan documents and summary plan description, together with her husband’s election form and the spousal waiver form.

Months later, and after a series of additional communications with Dana staff who indicated they could not find the 1979 documentation, Hartman sued Dana and the Weatherhead-UAW Combined Hourly Employee Pension Plan seeking statutory penalties against Dana for its failure to provide the documents, along with some attorney’s fees. The case further alleged that Dana breached its fiduciary duty to Hartman under 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132(a)(2) and 1109, and failed to establish and maintain a reasonable claims procedure as required by 29 U.S.C. § 1133.

While the court approved Hartman’s statutory damage claims, it ruled the plan-wide injunctive relief sought by Hartman is excessive.

The full text of the court’s decision can be found here.