James Baker heads the Firm’s ERISA Litigation Practice Group. He was named “ERISA Litigation Lawyer of the Year” in 2012 by Best Lawyers in America. Chambers USA has recognized him every year since 2007 and identified him as one of its “Leaders in Their Field” (2015-2018). James is “an ERISA legend on the West Coast whose expertise has resulted in national acclaim,” according to Chambers USA.
He has been “handling very prominent cases and producing work of the highest quality.” James has also been listed as a leading attorney for ERISA litigation in Northern California Super Lawyers from 2005 to the present. In 1998 he was named by the National Law Journal as one of the forty best employee benefits lawyers in the United States. James also acts as a court-appointed mediator for ERISA cases in the Northern and Eastern Districts of California.
James’ practice focuses on ERISA litigation and the counseling of employers on ERISA, employee benefit and executive compensation issues. He has defended a number of ERISA plan fiduciaries and has secured a number of favorable precedents.
Among his most notable achievements, he was the lead attorney in six ERISA class action cases resulting in six consecutive client victories using six different legal theories, as described below. He also regularly represents clients in federal district and appellate courts across the country.
- Georgetown University Law Center (LL.M. Tax)
- Santa Clara University (J.D.)
- Santa Clara University (B.A. Philosophy)
- U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit~United States
- U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit~United States
- U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois~United States
- U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit~United States
- U.S. Supreme Court~United States
- U.S. District Court, Southern District of California~United States
- California~United States
Representative Legal Matters:
- Northfield Ins. Co. v. Civic Center Hotel, 239 F. Supp. 3d 1163 (N.D.Cal. 2017) Motion to stay granted in a declaratory relief action filed by an insurer asking a federal court to parse covered insurance claims from uncovered claims.
- Mance v. Quest Diagnostics, 237 F. Supp. 3d 217 (D.N.J. 2017) ERISA class action case dismissed. Court rules at summary judgment that Quest Diagnostic’s Voluntary Separation Agreement Plan was not regulated by ERISA.
- Bluhm v. PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., 921 F. Supp. 2d 1019 (S.D. Cal. 2013) Plaintiffs alleged they had been improperly denied severance benefits under four different severance plans. The Court granted Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment as to all but one claim. The parties shortly thereafter reached a favorable settlement.
- Armbruster v. WageWorks, 2013 U.S. District LEXIS 96727 (D. Ar. 2013) Motion to dismiss brought on behalf of clients granted as to former employee’s spouse’s breach of contract and related claims. Court held that the complaint failed because claims were based on an alleged wrongful termination of Plaintiff’s ex-wife who had not brought suit.
- Solis v. Webb, 931 F. Supp. 2d 936, (N.D. Cal. 2012) 2012 WL 4466536 Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of clients granted as to DOL’s claims that payment of bonus and deferred compensation amounts before formation of ESOP were actionable fiduciary breaches. Court further ruled that because defendants followed the investment directions of an independent fiduciary, the DOL must show defendants knowingly permitted the ESOP to overpay for company stock.
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