Intel Corporation Investment Policy Committee et al. v. Sulyma

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit

No. 18-1116. Argued December 4, 2019--Decided February 26, 2020

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) requires plaintiffs with “actual knowledge” of an alleged fiduciary breach to file suit within three years of gaining that knowledge, 29 U. S. C. §1113(2), rather than within the 6-year period that would otherwise apply. Respondent Sulyma worked at Intel Corporation from 2010 to 2012 and participated in two Intel retirement plans. In October 2015, he sued petitioners—administrators of those plans—alleging that they had managed the plans imprudently. Petitioners countered that the suit was untimely under §1113(2) because Sulyma filed it more than three years after they had disclosed their investment decisions to him. Al-though Sulyma had visited the website that hosted many of these disclosures many times, he testified that he did not remember reviewing the relevant disclosures and that he had been unaware of the allegedly imprudent investments while working at Intel. The District Court granted summary judgment to petitioners under §1113(2). The Ninth Circuit reversed. That court agreed with petitioners that Sulyma could have known about the investments from the disclosures, but held that his testimony created a dispute as to when he gained “actual knowledge” for purposes of §1113(2).

Held: A plaintiff does not necessarily have “actual knowledge” under §1113(2) of the information contained in disclosures that he receives but does not read or cannot recall reading. To meet §1113(2)’s “actual knowledge” requirement, the plaintiff must in fact have become aware of that information. Pp. 5–12.

(a) ERISA’s “plain and unambiguous statutory language” must be enforced “according to its terms.” Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U. S. 242, 251. Although ERISA does not define the phrase “actual knowledge,” its meaning is plain. Dictionaries confirm that, to have “actual knowledge” of a piece of information, one must in fact be aware of it. Legal dictionaries give “actual knowledge” the same meaning. The law will sometimes impute knowledge—often called “constructive” knowledge—to a person who fails to learn something that a reasonably diligent person would have learned. The addition of “actual” in §1113(2) signals that the plaintiff’s knowledge must be more than hypothetical. Congress has repeatedly drawn the same “linguistic distinction,” Merck & Co. v. Reynolds, 559 U. S. 633, 647, elsewhere in ERISA. When Congress has included both actual and constructive knowledge in ERISA limitations provisions, Congress has done so explicitly. But Congress has never added to §1113(2) the language it has used in those other provisions to encompass both forms of knowledge. Pp. 5–8.

(b) Petitioners’ arguments for a broader reading of §1113(2) based on text, context, purpose, and statutory history all founder on Congress’s choice of the word “actual.” Petitioners may well be correct that heeding the plain meaning of §1113(2) substantially diminishes the protection that it provides for ERISA fiduciaries. But if policy considerations suggest that the current scheme should be altered, Congress must be the one to do it. Pp. 8–11.

(c) This opinion does not foreclose any of the “usual ways” to prove actual knowledge at any stage in the litigation. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U. S. 825, 842. Plaintiffs who recall reading particular disclosures will be bound by oath to say so in their depositions. Actual knowledge can also be proved through “inference from circumstantial evidence.” Ibid. And this opinion does not preclude defendants from contending that evidence of “willful blindness” supports a finding of “actual knowledge.” Cf. Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S. A., 563 U. S. 754, 769. Pp. 11–12.

909 F. 3d 1069, affirmed.

Alito, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Holguin-Hernandez v. United States

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit

No. 18-7739. Argued December 10, 2019--Decided February 26, 2020

A criminal defendant who wants to “preserve a claim of error” for appellate review must first inform the trial judge “of [1] the action the party wishes the court to take, or [2] the party’s objection to the court’s action and the grounds for that objection.” Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 51(b).

Petitioner Holguin-Hernandez was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to 60 months in prison and five years of supervised release while he was still serving a term of supervised release for an earlier conviction. The Government asked the District Court to impose an additional consecutive prison term of 12 to 18 months for violating the conditions of the earlier term. Petitioner countered that 18 U. S. C. §3553’s sentencing factors either did not support imposing any additional time or supported a sentence of less than 12 months. The court nonetheless imposed a consecutive 12-month term. Petitioner argued on appeal that this sentence was unreasonably long because it was “ ‘greater than necessar[y]’ to accomplish the goals of sentencing,” Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U. S. 85, 101, but the Fifth Circuit held that he had forfeited that argument by failing to object to the reasonableness of the sentence in the District Court.

Held: Petitioner’s district-court argument for a specific sentence (nothing or less than 12 months) preserved his claim on appeal that the sentence imposed was unreasonably long. A party who informs the court of the “action” he “wishes the court to take,” Rule 51(b), ordinarily brings to the court’s attention his objection to a contrary decision. That is certainly true where, as here, the defendant advocates for a sentence shorter than the one actually imposed. Judges, having in mind their “overarching duty” under §3553(a) “to ‘impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary,’ to serve the purposes of sentencing,” would ordinarily understand that a defendant in that circumstance was making the argument that the shorter sentence would be “ ‘sufficient’ ” and a longer sentence “ ‘greater than necessary.’ ” Pepper v. United States, 562 U. S. 476, 493 (quoting §3553(a)). Nothing more is needed to preserve a claim that a longer sentence is unreasonable. Defendants need not also refer to the “reasonableness” of a sentence. Rule 51 abolished the requirement of making formal “exceptions” to a district court’s decision. And, in any event, reasonableness pertains to the standard of “appellate review” of a trial court’s sentencing decision, Gall v. United States, 552 U. S. 38, 46 (emphasis added); it is not the substantive standard that trial courts apply under §3553(a). A defendant who, by advocating for a particular sentence, communicates to the trial judge his view that a longer sentence is “greater than necessary” has thereby informed the court of the legal error at issue in an appellate challenge to the substantive reasonableness of the sentence.

Other issues raised by the Government and amicus are not addressed here because they were not considered by the Fifth Circuit. Pp. 4–6.

746 Fed. Appx. 403, vacated and remanded.

Breyer, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Alito, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Gorsuch, J., joined.


Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

No. 18-6662. Argued January 21, 2020--Decided February 26, 2020

The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) mandates a 15-year minimum sentence for a defendant convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm who has at least three convictions for “serious drug offense[s].” 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(1). A state offense ranks as a “serious drug offense” only if it “involv[es] manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance.” §924(e)(2)(A)(ii).

To determine whether an offender’s prior convictions qualify for ACCA enhancement, this Court has used a “categorical approach,” looking “only to the statutory definitions of the prior offenses.” Taylor v. United States, 495 U. S. 575, 600. Under some statutes, a court employing a categorical approach must come up with a “generic” version of a crime—that is, the elements of the offense as commonly understood. The court then determines whether the elements of the offense of conviction match those of the generic crime. Other statutes, which ask the court to determine whether the conviction meets some other criterion, require no such generic-offense analysis.

Shular pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and received a 15-year sentence, the mandatory minimum under ACCA. In imposing this sentence, the District Court held that Shular’s six prior cocaine-related convictions under Florida law qualified as “serious drug offense[s]” triggering ACCA enhancement. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that §924(e)(2)(A)(ii)’s “serious drug offense” definition does not require a comparison to a generic offense.

Held: Section 924(e)(2)(A)(ii)’s “serious drug offense” definition requires only that the state offense involve the conduct specified in the statute; it does not require that the state offense match certain generic offenses. Pp. 5–11.

(a) The parties agree that §924(e)(2)(A)(ii) requires a categorical approach. They differ, however, on what comparison the statute requires. In the Government’s view, §924(e)(2)(A)(ii) identifies conduct a court should compare directly against the state crime’s elements. In Shular’s view, §924(e)(2)(A)(ii) identifies generic offenses whose elements a court must first expound, then compare against the state crime’s elements. Pp. 5–6.

(b) The statutory text and context show that §924(e)(2)(A)(ii) refers to conduct, not offenses. In two respects, §924(e)(2)(A)(ii) contrasts with neighboring §924(e)(2)(B)(ii), which refers to a crime that “is burglary, arson, or extortion” and calls for the generic-offense analysis that Shular urges. First, the terms in §924(e)(2)(A)(ii)—“manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance”—can be used to describe conduct. Unlike “burglary,” “arson,” and “extortion,” those terms do not unambiguously name offenses. Second, by speaking of activities a state-law drug offense “involv[es],” §924(e)(2)(A)(ii) suggests that the descriptive terms immediately following the word “involving” identify conduct. To refer to offenses, it would have been far more natural for the drafter to follow §924(e)(2)(B)(ii) in using “is.” Pp. 6–7.

(c) Shular argues that Congress meant to capture the drug offenses generally existing in state laws at the time of §924(e)(2)(A)(ii)’s enactment. But he admits that those state laws lacked common nomenclature. The evident solution was for Congress to identify offenses by the conduct involved, not by the name of the offenses. Shular offers no persuasive explanation for why Congress would have chosen “involving” over “is” to refer to offenses. Nor do the other ACCA provisions on which Shular relies shed light on whether §924(e)(2)(A)(ii) refers to conduct or offenses. Pp. 7–9.

(d) Rejecting a generic-offense approach, Shular contends, would subject defendants to ACCA enhancement based on outlier state laws. He emphasizes that the Florida drug offenses of which he was convicted do not require, as an element, knowledge of the illicit nature of the controlled substance. But Shular overstates the extent to which Florida law is idiosyncratic, for if a defendant asserts that he was unaware of the substance’s illicit nature, the jury must find knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt. In any event, Shular’s interpretation is scarcely the only one that promotes consistency. Congress intended consistent application of ACCA to all offenders who engaged—according to the elements of their prior convictions—in certain conduct. Pp. 9–10.

(e) The rule of lenity has no application here, for after consulting traditional canons of interpretation there remains no ambiguity for the rule of lenity to resolve. Pp. 10–11.

736 Fed. Appx. 876, affirmed.

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Kavanaugh, J., filed a concurring opinion.