January 17, 2020
In Publix Super Markets, Inc. v. Figareau et. al., Case No. 8:19-cv-545, 2019 WL 6311160 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 25, 2019), the Court permitted an ERISA self-funded health plan’s equitable lien claim to attach to the plaintiff attorney. This case is further evidence that using Synergy Settlement’s Lien Resolution service can be essential to fully resolve asserted liens and ensure that you, your client and your firm are protected.
Publix provides a health benefit plan that is ERISA self-funded (“The Plan”). Figareau and Paul are the parents of a child who sustained a birth injury. The Plan paid $88,846.39 in related medical expenses. The case settled and the “funds are housed in a designated structured settlement account established by [Paul and Figareau].”
Publix initiated an action against Figareau and Paul, as well as their attorney and the attorney’s firm (“Attorney Defendants”) seeking to obtain appropriate equitable relief to enforce the Plan’s reimbursement provisions. Specifically, Publix sought reimbursement of the settlement funds and equitable relief in the form of a constructive trust or equitable lien on the amounts held or controlled by the defendants as a result of the settlement of the underlying case.
Defendants argued numerous points including the fact that the attorney and law firm are not parties to the Plan and therefore the claims against them are not cognizable. The Court found that the claim against the Attorney Defendants are cognizable because they hold the settlement proceeds in trust or otherwise possess the funds. Specifically, a lien or constructive trust on funds in possession of the Attorney Defendants is imposed by the express terms of the Plan. The Court reiterated earlier decisions where it was stated that “the most important consideration is not the identity of the defendant, but rather that the settlement proceeds are still intact, and thus constitute an identifiable res that can be restored to its rightful recipient.”
Another point argued by the defendants is that this action “creates an impermissible conflict of interest between [the Attorney Defendants], the minor child, and Publix,” and that “[i]t would be unethical . . . for [the Attorney Defendants] to represent Publix in a contingency fee contract and protect the interest of Publix over the minor.” The Court found that “the funds held in trust by the Attorney Defendants are, as alleged, subject to a lien by agreement under the Plan. Their possession of the funds does not create a conflict of interest.”
It’s always best for lien resolution to not reach this level. Synergy is your partner to bring these matters to conclusion, limiting your liability and giving you peace of mind.