Stewart v. IHT Insurance Agency Group, LLC, No. 20-3754 (6th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Stewart, a co-owner of RRL and president of its subsidiary, IHT, formed a potential competitor. She was removed from the presidency, then launched a smear campaign against her replacement. RRL's other members voted to buy out her ownership interest. Stewart refused to sell her membership units. RRL sued. Stewart counterclaimed. As part of the buyout, RRL cut off Stewart’s health- and life insurance benefits. Stewart alleged that she remained an active member of RRL and was entitled to those benefits. An arbitration panel sided with RRL on all issues and ordered Stewart to sell her membership units and to release all claims against RRL and its affiliates “from the beginning of the world” to that day. The state court affirmed.
During the arbitration, Stewart and her son filed this lawsuit, claiming that IHT violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1161–1163. The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice on alternative grounds: Stewart had released all her claims and res judicata barred her from relitigating her removal from RRL and discontinued benefits. On appeal, the Stewarts challenged only whether Stewart released all of her claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Stewarts forfeited any right to challenge the res judicata ruling. Even if Stewart’s claims were not released, the res judicata conclusion would still stand. The Stewarts needed to win two arguments for reversal of the dismissal.