ERISA Expert Witness Allowed in Pension Plan Documents Litigation

Overview: ERISA Expert Witness testimony allowed because the court ruled that the expert was qualified because she is a pensions lawyer who has represented plan sponsors, plan administrators, and service providers.

Facts:  This case (Zavislak v. Netflix, Inc – United States District Court – Northern District of California – January 31, 2024) involves a claim under Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).  The plaintiff, Mark Zavislak, the beneficiary of the defendant’s health benefit plan, alleges that he did not receive all of health and welfare plan documents requested, which he alleges is a violation of Section 104 or ERISA.  To assist in their case Netflix hired ERISA Expert Witness Marcia S. Wagner to provide expert witness testimony.  The plaintiff filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion: The plaintiff first alleges that Wagner is not qualified to testify as an expert witness in this case because she hasn’t ever rendered an opinion about Section 104 or a plan administrator’s failure to furnish plan documents.  The court disagreed, stating that Wagner is an experienced employee benefits attorney who has represented plan sponsors, plan administrators, and service providers.

In addition, the plaintiff asserted that Wagner’s expert opinions ignores material facts, relies on insufficient data, her testimony does not utilize sufficient methods, and her methodology is not reliable.

First, the plaintiff argued that Wagner did not disclose a test or methodology for which her expert opinions are based.  The court noted that her opinion was based on her 35 years of experience working in the area of benefits law.  Also, the plaintiff argued that Wagner’s analysis is not based on sufficient data.  Again, the court disagreed, stating that Wagner based her expert report and testimony on court documents, transcripts, and numerous plan documents.

Also, the plaintiff argued that Wagner’s opinions will not assist the court because her testimony is not relevant.  The court disagreed again, stating that Wagner’s testimony spoke directly to the legal issues before the court.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert Marcia S. Wagner’s expert witness testimony is denied.