Pension Committee's Investment Guidelines are Formal Plan Documents

December 7, 2005 ( - In a second ruling relating to a Qwest Communications lawsuit, Chief US District Judge Lewis Babcock decided a pension plan committee's investment guidelines are "formal plan documents" and so must be provided to a plan participant.

In Phelps v. Qwest Employees Benefit Committee the court rejected the committee’s argument that the guidelines varied depending on the type of investment, and so no single set of guidelines governed the entire plan.

Participant Nelson Phelps, in one of his requests to the Benefit Committee, asked for the “investment policy guidelines or blueprint used in the design and implementation” of the plan’s investments.   He also later requested a copy of the committee’s proxy voting policies.   When the committee failed to produce the requested documents, Phelps sued.

The committee filed a motion for summary judgment, saying that the requested documents were not formal plan documents so it had no obligation under ERISA to provide copies of the information to Phelps.   The court found that the investment guidelines are formal plan documents and subject to disclosure.

However, the court did find that the committee was not required to disclose the various proxy voting policies of its members.   According to the opinion, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requires plan fiduciaries to produce documents “that inform participants how fiduciaries are fulfilling their obligations,” and Phelps had not argued that the committee’s fiduciary obligations under ERISA included the responsibility to vote proxies.

Babcock, in a separate ruling, already ordered Qwest to hand over its investment policy guidelines to retirees in its pension plan (See  Qwest Retirees Win Partial Victory in DoL Suit).

The case isPhelps v. Qwest Employees Benefit Committee, D. Colo., No. 04-cv-02042-LTB-OES, 12/2/05.