Harley Bjelland has served as an expert witness on numerous actions involving Employee Benefits and ERISA. For over thirty-six years, Harley Bjelland of the ERISA Law Firm has amassed experience both advising clients regarding Employee Benefits and ERISA and he has managed large, medium and small employee benefit plans acting as a fiduciary and as a member of the benefits committee that operates and administers pension and welfare benefit plans. He participated in and advised employers regarding how to process claims for benefits and the administrative appeals process afforded participants under ERISA. Mr. Bjelland represents a number of third party administrators and health and welfare benefit brokers and has assisted them with ObamaCare compliance and operational and administrative duties and obligations.
Whether the vehicle is a qualified retirement plan (pension, profit sharing, 401(k) and employee stock ownership plans), an equity program, an executive compensation plan or a bonus or a phantom stock plan, Mr. Bjelland has advised employers regarding the set-up, operation, administration, amendment and termination of all varieties of benefit plans. Management knows what it needs and why it needs its key players to change the way they conduct business. Mr. Bjelland knows the tools the tax laws provide to achieve that target.
Mr. Bjelland’s experience lends itself to educate triers of fact regarding the obligations, duties and procedures a fiduciary must navigate to comply with this complex area of the law. ERISA has numerous processes and requires plan sponsors to seek assistance to help navigate this extremely complex area of the law.
On three separate occasions Mr. Bjelland has served as an expert witness regarding the adoption, administration and operation of Internal Revenue Code Section 412(i) plans, a type of defined benefit pension plan involving life insurance investments. Mr. Bjelland was instrumental in the settlement of these cases as he assisted counsel for the Plaintiffs as well as counsel for the Defendants to understand the problems the parties had with respect to funding and underfunding of the plans, streamlining issues that were contested to remove the issues from being an impediment to settling the case.
Mr. Bjelland has also served as an expert witness on a matter involving life insurance and individual welfare benefit plans under Internal Revenue Code Section 419(e). Mr. Bjelland represented the Plaintiff in the case and was able to assist in resolving the matter in a favorable manner for the Plaintiff.
Mr. Bjelland represented the plaintiff spouse in a divorce settlement regarding the community value of stock options granted to the ex-husband as part of a signing bonus with a publicly traded company. While case law indicated that the plaintiff should have no value in the stock options as they had to vest, the plaintiff obtained a settlement based upon the future vesting of the stock options being virtually assured due to the severance package available to the ex-husband.
In another action, the Plaintiff had a large judgment against the Defendant in a fraud case. The Defendant had filed for Bankruptcy and sought to prevent the Plaintiff’s from recovering amounts held in the qualified 401(k) retirement plan sponsored by the Defendant’s corporate employer, a company wholely owned by the Defendant. While the Plaintiff had engaged its own expert witness, the Court directly questioned Mr. Bjelland to assist the Court in making his ruling that the Defendant had not acted fraudulently and the Court authorized the Plaintiff to recover the almost $2 million held in the Defendant’s retirement plan.
Mr. Bjelland also served as an expert in an action in San Diego regarding the appropriate standard of care required under ERISA for the prosecution of a claim for health care benefits under a welfare benefit plan. Mr. Bjelland provided advice on the roles of the employer and the insurance company to process and make a determination on a claim for benefits under ERISA. Mr. Bjelland also assisted in helping the parties determine which entity had the overall authority on paying or not paying the benefit.
Mr. Bjelland also served as an expert witness in a case involving a former executive’s right to be paid a non-qualified deferred compensation benefit from a publicly traded pharmaceutical company. The former employer and the former executive could not agree on entitlement to the benefit and Mr. Bjelland assisted in obtaining a settlement that led to the payment of the entire disputed benefit.
Mr. Bjelland also is an expert on a case in Texas involving the purchase of a third party administrator firm. Mr. Bjelland has opined on the case regarding the operation of the business and has assisted in analyzing the clients of the third party administrator firm and whether clients were actually current clients of the firm. He has provided testimony regarding clients that were and were not continuing clients and hence would not be engaging the firm for on-going business.
Mr. Bjelland served as an expert witness on a matter involving individual supplemental life insurance provided as an employee benefit. The broker had put in a supplemental life insurance program that was contingent on ten participants in the program. Only four employees enrolled in the program and premiums were deducted from those employee’s paychecks. The insurance company cancelled the program (due to a failure of minimum enrollment) and one of the four employees who thought they had a $100,000 policy died without any coverage in place. Mr. Bjelland assisted in obtaining errors and omissions coverage from the broker and the employer’s own liability insurance carriers.
Mr. Bjelland has also served numerous times as co-counsel on litigation matters. Issues have included fiduciary status for parties, funding and paying for benefits as well as benefits of a target company in corporate acquisitions.
Mr. Bjelland is also an expert on a case involving the distribution of a benefit from an employee stock ownership plan. The plan sponsor alleges that the benefit was distributed in 1982. The Plaintiff, who Mr. Bjelland represents, claims he never received the benefit which is now worth over $50 million.