Section 79, Captive Insurance, 419, 412i Plans, Don’t go to arbitration sue

Lance Wallach 
Thomas, Francis, Edward, and Dolores Ehlen1("the Ehlens") are employees of Ehlen Floor Covering, Inc. ("Ehlen Floor"). In 2002, Ehlen Floor created a 412(I) employee benefit pension plan, the Ehlen Floor Coverings Retirement Plan ("the Plan"), with the help of advisors and administrators. IPS, a corporation specializing in pension plan design and administration for small businesses, took over as the Plan administrator at the start of 2003. As part of the commencement of IPS's services, Edward Ehlen, in his capacity as president of Ehlen Floor, signed an Arbitration Addendum ("AA") attached to an Administrative Services Agreement ("the Agreement") between IPS and Ehlen Floor. The AA called for arbitration of "any claim arising out of the rendition or lack of rendition of services under [the] [A]greement." The Agreement provided a list of available services that IPS could provide, such as performing annual reviews of the Plan, making amendments, and preparing annual report forms. The Agreement also stated that Ehlen Floor would indicate in Section VI of the Agreement which of the available services it desired for IPS to actually perform. There is no Section VI in the Agreement, nor is there any testimony or evidence that plaintiffs ever viewed a Section VI of the Agreement.
Shortly after IPS stepped in as administrator of the Plan, it became aware that the Plan was not in compliance with several Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") rules and regulations. IPS contends that it drafted an amendment to correct these flaws, but the amendment was never officially adopted. In 2004, the IRS promulgated new rules explaining that it would consider 412(i) plans with beneficiary payout limitations to be listed transactions2, possibly subject to serious penalties. The rule required any plans that could be considered listed transactions to file Form8886 to avoid potential penalties. IPS drafted another amendment to the Plan after determining that the Plan would likely be classified as a listed transaction under the new rules. Ehlen Floor was not informed about the pre-rule tax problems, the existence of the new rule, the additional filing requirements that the new rule imposed, or the drafting of the new amendment. The IRS instigated an audit on March 6, 2006, found the Plan to be non-compliant, and ultimately assessed significant penalties against Ehlen Floor.
In August 2007, plaintiffs filed a complaint in state court against a number of parties involved with the creation and initial administration of the Plan, asserting claims of negligence, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, negligent supervision, breaches of fiduciary duties, and unfair and deceptive trade practices. The case was removed to federal court on the basis of preemption under ERISA. In May 2009, as requested by the court, plaintiffs recast their complaints as federal matters in their Second Amended Complaint, but plaintiffs contested the removal and argued against federal jurisdiction. IPS was added as a defendant in the Second Amended Complaint. IPS then moved to compel arbitration of the dispute, claiming that the terms of the AA govern the matter. The district court denied the motion. IPS appeals; plaintiffs cross-appeal to challenge the existence of federal jurisdiction.

Innovative Pension Strategies, Inc. ("IPS") appeals the district court's denial of its motion to compel arbitration and stay plaintiffs' claims against it. Plaintiffs cross-appeal, disputing the preemption of their claims under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and alleging a lack of federal jurisdiction. We find that jurisdiction is proper and affirm the district court's denial of IPS's motion to compel arbitration.

We therefore affirm the district court's denial of IPS's motion to compel arbitration and to stay plaintiffs' claims against it.
Lance Wallach can be reached at:

For more information, please visit Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, abusive tax shelters, financial, international tax, and estate planning.  He writes about 412(i), 419, Section79, FBAR, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Pubic Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as the AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, or visit

Lance Wallach
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National Society of Accountants Speaker of The Year

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