January 31, 2020

Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC sent a proposed class action with high stakes for pensioners’ court access to the U.S. Supreme Court, and continued inking multimillion-dollar settlements for suits accusing hospitals of misusing an ERISA exemption in 2019, earning the firm a spot among Law360’s 2019 Benefits Practice Groups of the Year.

Cohen Milstein’s Washington, D.C.-based benefits practice group, which employs eight lawyers, is a major part of the approximately 100-attorney law firm, said Michelle Yau.

“While we’re not one of the two largest groups by numbers, our group is an important piece of our firm’s commitment to protecting American workers and their rights,” she said.

The firm’s most visible work in 2019 was its successful Supreme Court petition in Thole v. US Bank, an Eighth Circuit ruling that held that pensioners can't sue over fiduciary breaches when their plan is fully funded. The high court picked up the case in June and heard oral arguments in January.

The case could have a wide-ranging impact on who can bring Employee Retirement Income Security Act suits, whether they pay into a defined-benefit pension plan or a 401(k) plan. Though the case concerns only defined-benefit plans, its impact could spill over into the 401(k) plan space, some attorneys watching the case have speculated.

Karen Handorf, who chairs the practice group, said Cohen Milstein’s presence in the high court speaks to its abilities as a law firm.

“The fact we’ve had two cases in the Supreme Court over the past few years says something about our ability to push the envelope,” Handorf said.

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