Nutt v. Osceola Therapy & Living Cntr., Inc., No. 14-3364 (8th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Kevin and Lisa Nutt worked at Osceola Nursing Home. Funds were withheld from their paychecks as “pre-tax insurance.” After Kevin was injured, they learned that Osceola had not paid premiums. Their policy had lapsed; the Nutts owed $233,000 for medical services. The insurer told Lisa that it could reinstate the policy and pay the bills if Osceola made the delinquent premium payments. Osceola did not do so. Osceola then entered into a contract with Cooper, who specialized in turning around financially troubled nursing homes. Cooper’s company, Berryville, ultimately took title to the property. Before the closing, Cooper could assume management under a temporary lease. Cooper assigned this lease to OTLC, created for the project and owned by Hargis. Though OTLC was independent, Hargis regularly worked with Cooper in nursing-home ventures. OTLC operated the facility for Cooper and Berryville for three years. Nutt told Hargis about the outstanding bills. Days later, OTLC fired both Lisa and Kevin. They sued. The court entered default judgment against Osceola under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001; found that they could not provide adequate relief; and, on a theory of successor liability, held OTLC liable. The Eighth Circuit reversed, stating that if successor liability required only subsequent operation, it would discourage the free transfer of assets to their most valuable uses. OTLC was not a party to the unlawful practices of Osceola and operated without significant connection to the culpable parties.
Court Description: Gruender, Author, with Melloy and Benton, Circuit Judges] Civil case - ERISA. Even if the court assumes that successor liability applies in the ERISA context, the district court clearly erred in its factual finding and improperly weighed the equities in determining defendant OTLC was liable as the successor of the Osceola defendants.