Thole, et. al. v. U.S. Bank, N.A., et. al.
In this Article III standing case, the U.S. Supreme Court held 5-4 that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they did not have a concrete stake in the lawsuit. Plaintiffs Thole and Smith are retirees in U.S. Bank’s defined benefit retirement plan, and receive a fixed monthly retirement benefit payment under that plan. This monthly benefit is paid out of the plan’s trust fund and, under the terms of the plan, will continue to be paid throughout their lives. Plaintiffs sued U.S. Bank and others claiming they had violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), specifically ERISA’s duties of loyalty and prudence, by investing the plan’s assets poorly, including investing in the defendants’ own mutual funds and paying themselves excessive management fees. Consequently, the plaintiffs claimed the retirement plan’s trust lost $748 million more than it would have lost had it been properly managed.
The court noted that to establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered “an injury in fact that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent”, that the defendant cause the injury, and that the relief sought would provide redress for the injury. Although the plaintiffs alleged a significant loss to the retirement plan trust fund due to improper management, the court reasoned that since the trust had sufficient funds to pay all future benefits due to the plaintiffs, the plaintiffs had not been financially harmed. Because the plaintiffs would not benefit financially from winning the case (and would not suffer financially from losing the case), the court opined that the plaintiffs had no concrete stake in the lawsuit and thus lacked standing.