Investment Management

Posted on Thursday, August 17 2017 at 8:39 am by

DOL Proposes an Extension of the Fiduciary Rule Transition Period

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

When the DOL Fiduciary Rule became effective on June 9th, it marked the start of a transition period that was scheduled to end on January 1, 2018 (the “Transition Period”).[i]  During the Transition Period, compliance burdens under the Fiduciary Rule are relaxed.  For example, those seeking to rely on the Best Interest Contract Exemption (the “BIC Exemption”) will face less stringent requirements.[ii]  Also, the DOL stated that it would not bring enforcement actions during the Transition Period against “fiduciaries who are working diligently and in good faith to comply with the new rule and exemptions.”[iii]

Last week, the DOL submitted proposed amendments to the BIC Exemption and certain other exemptions to the Fiduciary Rule.[iv]  We learned of this development through a 2-page filing the DOL made in relation to ongoing litigation.[v]  Unfortunately, the filing provided little detail, and the full text of the proposed amendments will not be available to the public until the conclusion of an interagency review.[vi]  However, what seems apparent, based upon the title of the proposed amendments in the filing, is that the proposed amendments include an extension of the Transition Period from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019.[vii]

In the long term, we believe that the DOL’s proposed amendments foreshadow either significant modifications to or a full repeal of the Fiduciary Rule and its exemptions.  In the near term, we believe the extension of the Transition Period, coupled with the temporary non-enforcement policy, provides fiduciaries with a reason to breathe easier.

Please contact us if you have any questions about this article or the DOL Fiduciary Rule generally.

Paul Foley is a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s Winston-Salem and New York offices.  John I. Sanders is an associate based in the firm’s Winston-Salem office.

[i] Department of Labor, Conflict of Interest FAQs (Transition Period) (May 2017), available at https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/faqs/coi-transition-period-1.pdf.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Thrivent Financial for Lutherans v. Acosta, et al., No. 0:16-cv-03289 (D. Minn. Sept. 29, 2016), available at http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjTqJP_utzVAhWI7CYKHdKTDrcQFggrMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmedia.thinkadvisor.com%2Fthinkadvisor%2Farticle%2F2017%2F08%2F09%2Fthriventvdolnotice8-9-2017.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFWeSsTSR6C69Z17yHF1q1a7bkDpg.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

Posted on Monday, June 12 2017 at 11:00 am by

Fiduciary Rule Creates Breach of Contract Claim, But No Private Right of Action

By Paul Foley and John I. Sanders

The first part of the DOL’s Conflict of Interest Rule (the “Fiduciary Rule”) went into effect on Friday, June 9th.  A large group of newly-defined “fiduciaries” are now subject to certain requirements of the Best Interest Contract (“BIC”) exemption,[1] a portion of the Fiduciary Rule that according to some commentators creates a private right of action for investors.

The creation of a private right of action is one of the investment industry’s chief concerns with the Fiduciary Rule.  Industry leaders claim that the BIC exemption creates a private right of action because it enables investors to bring breach of contract claims and class actions against the fiduciaries with whom they contract.  However, a federal judge from the Northern District of Texas flatly rejected this claim in Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America v. Hugler.[1]

The plaintiff in Hugler claimed, among other things, that the BIC exemption created a private right of action in violation of Alexander v. Sandoval, a Supreme Court case holding that only Congress, not an administrative agency, can create a private right of action under federal law.[2]  But the judge in Hugler sided with the DOL, finding that the BIC exemption does not create a private right of action, and so does not violate Sandoval.[3]  The judge reasoned that any lawsuit resulting from the breach of a BIC exemption contract would be brought under state contract law rather than federal ERISA law.[4]  The judge also noted that it is not a new concept for federal regulations to require entities to enter into written contracts with mandatory provisions; annuity owners already have enforceable contract rights against insurers, and multiple other agencies require that their regulated entities enter into written agreements with mandatory terms.[5]

Yet articles from leaders in the legal and investment industries continue to label the BIC exemption’s litigation risk as a private right of action for investors.  Fiduciaries reading these articles should keep in mind that a private right of action cannot exist under the BIC exemption because the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sandoval only allows a private right of action to be created by Congress.  Also, it is unlikely that any court will block the Fiduciary Rule on the grounds that the BIC exemption impermissibly creates a private right of action because, as pointed out by the judge in Hugler, any claims brought as a result of BIC exemption contracts would be brought under state law rather than federal law.  However, fiduciaries should be aware that the Fiduciary Rule still exposes them to litigation risk as investors can use BIC exemption contracts (which are not required to be used until January 1, 2018) to file state breach of contract claims and, potentially, class actions.

Paul Foley is a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s Winston-Salem and New York offices.  John I. Sanders is an associate based in the firm’s Winston-Salem office.

[1] For more information on current Fiduciary Rule and BIC Exemption requirements, see Paul Foley & John Sanders, DOL Puts Advisors on Notice: Fiduciary Rule Will be Effective June 9th, Kilpatrick Townsend: Inv. Mgmt. Blog (May 25, 2017, 9:32 PM), http://blogs.kilpatricktownsend.com/investmentmanagement/?p=321.[1] Chamber of Commerce of the United States of Am. v. Hugler, 3:16-CV-1476-M, 2017 WL 514424 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 8, 2017).

[2] Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275, 286 (2001) (citing Touche Ross & Co. v. Reddington, 442 U.S. 560, 578 (1979)).

[3] Hugler, 3:16-CV-1476-M, 2017 WL 514424, at *20.

[4] Id..

[5] Id..