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Rule

Assessment of Civil Penalties Under Section 502(c)(5) of ERISA

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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This document has been published in the Federal Register. Use the PDF linked in the document sidebar for the official electronic format.

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AGENCY:

Employee Benefits Security Administration, Department of Labor.

ACTION:

Final rule.

SUMMARY:

This document contains a final rule that describes procedures relating to the assessment of civil penalties under section 502(c)(5) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, (ERISA) as amended by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Section 502(c)(5) authorizes the Secretary of Labor (the Secretary) to assess a civil monetary penalty against any person from the date of the person's failure or refusal to file the information required to be filed under section 101(g) of ERISA. The final rule clarifies the manner in which the Secretary will assess penalties under ERISA section 502(c)(5) and the procedures for agency review. Separate documents containing a final rule on the reporting requirement under section 101(g) of ERISA and a final rule relating to procedures for administrative hearings and appeals on assessments of penalties under ERISA section 502(c)(5) appear separately in this issue of the Federal Register.

EFFECTIVE DATE:

This final rule is effective January 1, 2004.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Amy J. Turner or Deborah S. Hobbs, Employee Benefits Security Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Room C-5331, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20210 (telephone (202) 693-8335).

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

A. Background and Overview of Changes in the Final Rule

This document contains a final rule that provides guidance relating to the assessment of civil penalties under section 502(c)(5) of ERISA for the failure or refusal to file a report pursuant to section 101(g) of ERISA. This regulation is designed to parallel the procedures set forth in § 2560.502c—2 regarding civil penalties under section 502(c)(2) of ERISA.

An interim final rule relating to the assessment of civil penalties under section 502(c)(5) of ERISA was published in the Federal Register on February 11, 2000 at 65 FR 7181. In the February 11, 2000 interim rule, the Department sought comments from affected parties. No comments were received.

On October 21, 2002, the Department published interim final rules relating to notice of blackout periods to participants and beneficiaries (during which their right to direct or diversify investments, obtain a loan, or obtain a distribution under a pension plan may be suspended) and related civil penalties under ERISA section 502(c)(7). Those rules also made conforming changes to the penalty assessment regulations under this section. Specifically, this section was amended to provide an additional five days in which to file a statement of reasonable cause or a request for hearing and answer, as applicable, when the Department serves a notice of intent to assess a penalty or a notice of penalty determination by certified mail, and to provide that service of a notice by the Department by regular mail is complete upon receipt. In addition, conforming amendments were made to provide that statements of reasonable cause are treated as filed on mailing or on transmittal under certain circumstances. Finally, amendments were made to accommodate those changes in the filing and service rules. No comments were received with respect to these conforming amendments.

This regulation finalizes the interim final regulations published February 20, 2000, as amended by the interim final amendments published October 21, 2002. Only one modification was made, involving applicability dates. Specifically, the interim final rule contained a transition safe harbor period under which no civil penalty was assessed against an administrator that had made a good faith effort to comply with a § 2520.101-2 filing that was due in the Year 2000. This transition rule was created because, during the first year in which a report was required to be filed under section 101(g) in particular, the Department was focused on educating administrators about this filing requirement. Because the dates during which the transition rule was applicable have passed, this rule has been deleted from the final rule.

The Department remains committed to working with administrators to help them comply with the Form M-1 filing requirement. Filers who have questions or who need assistance in completing a filing may call the EBSA Help Desk, at 202-693-8360. Start Printed Page 17504

B. Regulatory Impact Analysis

Executive Order 12866 Statement

Under Executive Order 12866, the Department must determine whether a regulatory action is “significant” and therefore subject to the requirements of the Executive Order and subject to review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Under section 3(f) of the Executive Order, a “significant regulatory action” is an action that is likely to result in a rule (1) having an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more, or adversely and materially affecting a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or State, local or tribal governments or communities (also referred to as “economically significant”); (2) creating serious inconsistency or otherwise interfering with an action taken or planned by another agency; (3) materially altering the budgetary impacts of entitlement grants, user fees, or loan programs or the rights and obligations of recipients thereof; or (4) raising novel legal or policy issues arising out of legal mandates, the President's priorities, or the principles set forth in the Executive Order. On the basis of these criteria, it has been determined that this regulatory action is significant under section 3(f)(4) of the Executive Order. Accordingly, OMB has reviewed this regulation.

Paperwork Reduction Act

The rule being issued here is not subject to the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.) because it does not contain a “collection of information” as defined in 44 U.S.C. 3502(3).

Regulatory Flexibility Act

The Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) (RFA) requires each Federal agency to perform a regulatory flexibility analysis for all rules subject to the notice and comment requirements of section 553(b) of the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C 551 et seq.) unless the head of the agency certifies that the rule will not, if promulgated, have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. Small entities include small businesses, organizations, and governmental jurisdictions.

Because these rules were issued as interim final rules and not as a notice of proposed rulemaking, the RFA does not apply and the Department is not required to either certify that the rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities, or conduct a regulatory flexibility analysis. The Department does not anticipate that this final rule will impose a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities, however, regardless of whether one uses the definition of small entity found in regulations issued by the Small Business Administration (13 CFR § 121.201) or one defines small entity, on the basis of section 104(a)(2) of ERISA, as an employee benefit plan with fewer than 100 participants.

Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act

The final rule being issued here is subject to the provisions of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (5 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) and has been transmitted to Congress and the Comptroller General for review. The rule is not a “major rule” as that term is defined in 5 U.S.C. 804, because it is not likely to result in (1) an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more; (2) a major increase in costs or prices for consumers, individual industries, or federal, State, or local government agencies, or geographic regions; or (3) significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or on the ability of United States-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises in domestic or export markets.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act

For purposes of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (Pub. L. 104-4), as well as Executive Order 12875, this final rule does not include any Federal mandate that may result in expenditures by State, local, or tribal governments, and will not impose an annual burden of $100 million or more on the private sector.

Federalism Statement Under Executive Order 13132

Executive Order 13132 outlines fundamental principles of federalism, and requires the adherence to specific criteria by federal agencies in the process of their formulation and implementation of policies that have substantial direct effects on the states, the relationship between the national government and the states, or on the distribution of power and responsibilities among the various levels of government. Agencies promulgating regulations that have these federalism implications must consult with state and local officials, and describe in the preamble to the regulation the extent of their consultation and the nature of the concerns of state and local officials, as well as the agency's position supporting the need to issue the regulation, and a statement of the extent to which the concerns of state and local officials have been met.

In the Department's view, these final regulations do not have federalism implications because they do not have substantial direct effects on the states, the relationship between the national government and the states, or on the distribution of power and responsibilities among various levels of government. Not only do these regulations not reduce state discretion, the reports they require will facilitate state enforcement of their own laws as they apply to MEWAs since the reports will be available to the states and will identify MEWAs operating in each state.

Although the Department concludes that these final regulations do not have federalism implications, in keeping with the spirit of the Executive Order that agencies shall closely examine any policies that may have federalism implications or limit the policy making discretion of the states, the Department of Labor engages in extensive efforts to consult with and work cooperatively with affected state and local officials.

For example, the Department attends quarterly meetings of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to listen to the concerns of state insurance departments. The NAIC is a non-profit corporation established by the insurance commissioners in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the four U.S. territories that, among other things, provides a forum for the development of uniform policy when uniformity is appropriate. Its members meet, discuss, and offer solutions to mutual problems. The NAIC sponsors quarterly meetings to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas, and in-depth consideration of insurance issues by regulators, industry representatives, and consumers. In addition to the general discussions, committee meetings, and task force meetings, the NAIC sponsors standing HIPAA meetings for members during the quarterly conferences, including a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)/Department of Labor (DOL) meeting on HIPAA issues. (This meeting provides CMS and DOL the opportunity to provide updates on regulations, bulletins, enforcement actions, and outreach efforts regarding HIPAA.) In these quarterly meetings, issues relating to MEWAs and the implementation of the Form M-1 filing requirement are frequently discussed and, periodically, entire sessions are scheduled that are dedicated exclusively to MEWA/Form M-1 issues. Start Printed Page 17505

The Department also cooperates with the states in several ongoing outreach initiatives, through which information is shared among federal regulators, state regulators, and the regulated community. For example, the Department has established a Health Benefits Education Campaign with more than 70 partners, including CMS, the NAIC, and many business and consumer groups. In addition, the Department Web site offers links to important state Web sites and other resources, facilitating coordination between the state and federal regulators and the regulated community.

The Department also coordinates with state insurance departments to freeze assets when a MEWA operator is committing fraud or operating in a financially unsound manner. In these situations, typically, a state will obtain a cease and desist order to stave off further action by the MEWA in that state. In certain situations, the Department will then obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) to freeze assets of the MEWA nationwide. In one case this year, the Department obtained a TRO to freeze assets of a MEWA whose operators were committing fraud and not paying benefits. This case affects more than 23,000 participants and beneficiaries in 50 states and the amount of unpaid claims could exceed $6 million. In a similar case last year, the Department obtained a TRO to freeze assets of a MEWA that was diverting plan assets for personal use of the MEWA's operators. That case affected at least 1,500 participants and $2.8 million in unpaid claims. A court order was also issued in that case appointing an independent fiduciary to manage the MEWA.

In conclusion, the Department has stayed in contact with state regulators and considered their concerns in developing these regulations. These regulations should help the states enforce their own laws as they apply to MEWAs since the reports they require will be available to them and will identify MEWAs operating in each state.

Statutory Authority

29 U.S.C. 1132(c)(5) and 1135 and Secretary of Labor's Order 1-2003, 68 FR 5374 (Feb. 3, 2003).

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List of Subjects in 29 CFR Part 2560

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For the reasons set out in the preamble, Part 2560 of Chapter XXV of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:

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PART 2560—[AMENDED]

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1. The authority for part 2560 continues to read:

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Authority: 29 U.S.C. 1132, 1135, and Secretary of Labor's Order 1-2003, 68 FR 5374 (Feb. 3, 2003). Sec. 2560.503-1 also issued under 29 U.S.C. 1133.

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2. Part 2560 is amended by revising §2560.502c-5 to read:

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penalties under section 502(c)(5).

(a) In general— (1) Pursuant to the authority granted the Secretary under section 502(c)(5) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (the Act), the administrator of a multiple employer welfare arrangement (MEWA) (within the meaning of section 3(40)(A) of the Act) that is not a group health plan, and that provides benefits consisting of medical care (within the meaning of section 733(a)(2)), for which a report is required to be filed under section 101(g) of the Act and 29 CFR 2520.101-2, shall be liable for civil penalties assessed by the Secretary under section 502(c)(5) of the Act for each failure or refusal to file a completed report required to be filed under section 101(g) and 29 CFR 2520.101-2. The term “administrator” is defined in 29 CFR 2520.101-2(b).

(2) For purposes of this section, a failure or refusal to file the report required to be filed under section 101(g) shall mean a failure or refusal to file, in whole or in part, that information described in section 101(g) and 29 CFR 2520.101-2, on behalf of the MEWA, at the time and in the manner prescribed therefor.

(b) Amount assessed— (1) The amount assessed under section 502(c)(5) shall be determined by the Department of Labor, taking into consideration the degree and/or willfulness of the failure to file the report. However, the amount assessed under section 502(c)(5) of the Act shall not exceed $1,000 a day, computed from the date of the administrator's failure or refusal to file the report and, except as provided in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, continuing up to the date on which a report meeting the requirements of section 101(g) and 29 CFR 2520.101-2, as determined by the Secretary, is filed.

(2) If, upon receipt of a notice of intent to assess a penalty (as described in paragraph (c) of this section), the administrator files a statement of reasonable cause for the failure to file, in accordance with paragraph (e) of this section, a penalty shall not be assessed for any day from the date the Department serves the administrator with a copy of such notice until the day after the Department serves notice on the administrator of its determination on reasonable cause and its intention to assess a penalty (as described in paragraph (g) of this section).

(3) For purposes of this paragraph, the date on which the administrator failed or refused to file the report shall be the date on which the report was due (determined without regard to any extension of time for filing). A report which is rejected under 29 CFR 2520.101-2 shall be treated as a failure to file a report when a revised report meeting the requirements of this section is not filed within 45 days of the date of the Department's notice of rejection. If a revised report meeting the requirements of this section, as determined by the Secretary, is not submitted within 45 days of the date of the notice of rejection by the Department, a penalty shall be assessed under section 502(c)(5) beginning on the day after the date of the administrator's failure or refusal to file the report.

(c) Notice of intent to assess a penalty. Prior to the assessment of any penalty under section 502(c)(5), the Department shall provide to the administrator of the MEWA a written notice indicating the Department's intent to assess a penalty under section 502(c)(5), the amount of such penalty, the period to which the penalty applies, and a statement of the facts and the reason(s) for the penalty.

(d) Reconsideration or waiver of penalty to be assessed. The Department may determine that all or part of the penalty amount in the notice of intent to assess a penalty shall not be assessed on a showing that the administrator complied with the requirements of section 101(g) of the Act or on a showing by the administrator of mitigating circumstances regarding the degree or willfulness of the noncompliance.

(e) Showing of reasonable cause. Upon issuance by the Department of a notice of intent to assess a penalty, the administrator shall have thirty (30) days from the date of service of the notice, as described in paragraph (i) of this section, to file a statement of reasonable cause explaining why the penalty, as calculated, should be reduced, or not be assessed, for the reasons set forth in paragraph (d) of this section. Such statement must be made in writing and set forth all the facts alleged as reasonable cause for the reduction or nonassessment of the penalty. The statement must contain a declaration by the administrator that the statement is made under the penalties of perjury. Start Printed Page 17506

(f) Failure to file a statement of reasonable cause. Failure of an administrator to file a statement of reasonable cause within the thirty (30) day period described in paragraph (e) of this section shall be deemed to constitute a waiver of the right to appear and contest the facts alleged in the notice of intent, and such failure shall be deemed an admission of the facts alleged in the notice for purposes of any proceeding involving the assessment of a civil penalty under section 502(c)(5) of the Act. Such notice shall then become a final order of the Secretary, within the meaning of 29 CFR 2570.91(g), forty-five (45) days from the date of service of the notice.

(g) Notice of the determination on statement of reasonable cause—(1) The Department, following a review of all the facts alleged in support of no assessment or a complete or partial waiver of the penalty, shall notify the administrator, in writing, of its determination to waive the penalty, in whole or in part, and/or assess a penalty. If it is the determination of the Department to assess a penalty, the notice shall indicate the amount of the penalty, not to exceed the amount described in paragraph (c) of this section, and a brief statement of the reasons for assessing the penalty. This notice is a “pleading” for purposes of 29 CFR 2570.91(m).

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (h) of this section, a notice issued pursuant to paragraph (g)(1) of this section, indicating the Department's intention to assess a penalty, shall become a final order, within the meaning of 29 CFR 2570.91(g), forty-five (45) days from the date of service of the notice.

(h) Administrative hearing. A notice issued pursuant to paragraph (g) of this section will not become a final order, within the meaning of 29 CFR 2570.91(g), if, within thirty (30) days from the date of the service of the notice, the administrator or a representative thereof files a request for a hearing under 29 CFR 2570.90 through 2570.101, and files an answer to the notice. The request for hearing and answer must be filed in accordance with 29 CFR 2570.92 and 18.4. The answer opposing the proposed sanction shall be in writing, and supported by reference to specific circumstances or facts surrounding the notice of determination issued pursuant to paragraph (g) of this section.

(i) Service of notices and filing of statements—(1) Service of a notice for purposes of paragraphs (c) and (g) of this section shall be made:

(i) By delivering a copy to the administrator or representative thereof;

(ii) By leaving a copy at the principal office, place of business, or residence of the administrator or representative thereof; or

(iii) By mailing a copy to the last known address of the administrator or representative thereof.

(2) If service is accomplished by certified mail, service is complete upon mailing. If service is by regular mail, service is complete upon receipt by the addressee. When service of a notice under paragraph (c) or (g) of this section is by certified mail, five (5) days shall be added to the time allowed by these rules for the filing of a statement, or a request for hearing and answer, as applicable.

(3) For purposes of this section, a statement of reasonable cause shall be considered filed:

(i) Upon mailing, if accomplished using United States Postal Service certified mail or Express Mail;

(ii) Upon receipt by the delivery service, if accomplished using a “designated private delivery service” within the meaning of 26 U.S.C. 7502(f);

(iii) Upon transmittal, if transmitted in a manner specified in the notice of intent to assess a penalty as a method of transmittal to be accorded such special treatment; or

(iv) In the case of any other method of filing, upon receipt by the Department at the address provided in the notice of intent to assess a penalty.

(j) Liability—(1) If more than one person is responsible as administrator for the failure to file the report, all such persons shall be jointly and severally liable with respect to such failure.

(2) Any person against whom a civil penalty has been assessed under section 502(c)(5) pursuant to a final order, within the meaning of 29 CFR 2570.91(g), shall be personally liable for the payment of such penalty.

(k) Cross-reference. See 29 CFR 2570.90 through 2570.101 for procedural rules relating to administrative hearings under section 502(c)(5) of the Act.

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Signed at Washington DC, this 31st day of March, 2003.

Ann L. Combs,

Assistant Secretary, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Department of Labor.

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[FR Doc. 03-8116 Filed 4-7-03; 8:45 am]

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