Service Provider Not A Fiduciary In Negotiating Its Contract
A federal district court in Iowa dismissed a putative class action complaint brought by several 401(k) plan sponsors who alleged that Principal Life Insurance Company breached its fiduciary duties to the plans by charging excessive fees in connection with certain investment options and services provided to plan participants. The court determined, among other things, that Principal Life was not acting as a plan fiduciary because service providers do not act as fiduciaries when negotiating the terms of their service with the plans as long as the service providers do not control the named fiduciary’s negotiation and approval of those terms. Here, there was no showing that Principal Life controlled the decision of the plan sponsors to hire it as a service provider to the plans. Furthermore, although Principal Life may have acted as a fiduciary in other respects (e.g., because it had discretion to select investment accounts and was an investment advisor), plaintiffs’ excessive fee claims did not arise from actions taken by Principal Life in performance of those other functions. Thus, the alleged fiduciary status created by these other functions did not confer fiduciary status upon Principal Life with respect to the excessive fee claims. The case is McCaffree Fin. Corp. v. Principal Life Ins. Co., 2014 WL 7060336 (S.D. Iowa Dec. 10, 2014).