Willkie Defeats ERISA Suit Against Former Appvion Executives

September 7, 2022

On September 6, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin granted Willkie’s motion to dismiss a high-profile lawsuit against former Appvion Inc. directors and officers brought by the representative of the company's Retirement Savings and Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Plaintiff Grant Lyon, in his capacity as the ESOP Administrative Committee of Appvion, filed suit in November 2018, asserting various ERISA and securities law claims and seeking to recover damages for the ESOP Plan, which had provided funds for an employee buyout of the company and suffered losses when Appvion filed for bankruptcy in 2017.

After Judge William C. Griesbach dismissed the first amended complaint in its entirety, the plaintiff filed a subsequent version that included more than 1300 fact paragraphs across approximately 400 pages. Willkie then filed a motion to dismiss on behalf of the former director and officer defendants, as did other various parties.

The court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Dries for a report and recommendation on these motions. In March 2022, the Magistrate Judge concluded in a thorough and detailed 68-page opinion – in line with the arguments Willkie presented on the former directors and officers behalf – that the second amended complaint failed to cure any of the previously identified defects from the first amended complaint.

With the latest order, Judge Griesbach has now adopted the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation to conclusively dismiss the claims brought against the former directors and officers in their entirety.

The Willkie team was led by partner Craig Martin and included partners Amanda Amert, LaRue Robinson, Laura Norris, and counsel Michael Graham.