Pete engages in a broad commercial litigation practice, ranging from trade secret/unfair competition issues to defense of pharmaceutical and other product liability claims to employee benefit and ERISA litigation.  Pete also represents hospitals and health care professionals in professional liability claims. He has represented insurers and carriers in first-party claims and complex coverage matters, and has experience in class action litigation matters. He practices in both state and federal courts in the region, often serving as local counsel.  He serves as the firm's Managing Partner.

Following college, Pete served five years active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard, deployed from the Central Pacific to the Bering Sea as a deck watch officer aboard the cutter Morgenthau, and later in a procurement position in Washington, DC. He served as Editor-in-Chief of the University of Toledo Law Review while in law school, and has been with RCO Law since 1994.

Product Liability

  • Successfully postured cognitive injury claim to minor for favorable settlement through aggressive third-party practice and exhaustive technical analysis;
  • As coordinating counsel for Fortune 500 manufacturer facing products claim involving significant injury, secured early resolution through dispositive motion practice;

Commercial Litigation

  • Secured injunctive relief in trade secret/breach of exclusive license claim for high tech client;
  • As appellate counsel following adverse ruling in seven-figure commercial contract breach suit, secured reversal of attorney fee award;

Employee Benefit Litigation

  • Obtained summary judgment under ERISA Section 404(c) safe harbor for retirement plan trustee in breach of fiduciary duty claim where plan participants lost retirement savings to a Ponzi-scheming financial advisor; affirmed on appeal.

Medical Negligence

  • Obtained dismissal mid- trial for hospital in medical negligence suit involving permanent cognitive injury;
  • Defense verdict in favor of physician in medical negligence and battery claim following jury trial.

A Safe Harbor For The Pension Plan Trustee

Issue
Two physicians lost substantial retirement savings in a Ponzi scheme perpetrated by their financial advisor. With the advisor imprisoned on fraud charges and his company insolvent, the physicians sued the pension plan trustee – our client – as the sole remaining deep pocket, alleging breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA.  

Our Approach
We ascertained that the retirement accounts were individually-directed, affording plan participants almost limitless investment options. Investments were made via directive forms which expressly disclaimed the trustee’s liability for the transaction. Each plan participant received monthly statements listing their transactions and assets, and warning that certain assets were valued at cost, and not at market value. The doctors blindly deferred to their advisor on investment recommendations, even signing blank investment directives in advance. Eventually federal authorities discovered the fraud, and the majority of assets in their accounts were exposed as worthless.

Results
We successfully defended the trustee under a safe harbor provision of ERISA which bars claims by investors who exercise independent control over their accounts, rather than opting from assets selected by the trustee. The claimants had asserted that the trustee concealed material non-public facts regarding the advisor’s fraud, since the trustee had previously sued the advisor on behalf of other investors, purportedly depriving them of the “control” required to satisfy the safe harbor. The district court disagreed. Because the prior suits were public record, there was no concealment. The summary judgment ruling was one of the first to test the safe harbor shelter from liability for ERISA trustees in plans permitting self-directed accounts.

Contact Peter

Office Toledo, Ohio  Email plavalette@rcolaw.com
P 419-418-6927
Assistant Lynne Haney  Email lhaney@rcolaw.com
P 419-418-6466
  • Get to know Pete 

    I moved to the Toledo area in 1991 for law school, with no familial or other connection, and no intention of staying around. Over twenty years later, I’m privileged to call this area home.  My wife and I reside in Sylvania, chasing after our three children.  I enjoy preparing, and eating, barbeque and other grilled foods.  I also enjoy running and hiking.

 

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