The trial phase of Sivolella v. AXA Equitable Life Insurance Co. et al. and Sanford et al. v. AXA Equitable Funds Management Group LLC, the first Section 36(b) “excessive fee” cases to proceed to trial since 2009, commenced in January in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, before Judge Peter G. Sheridan in a bench trial.  Section 36(b) of the 1940 Act imposes a “fiduciary duty [on investment advisers] with respect to the receipt of compensation for services” and provides shareholders with a private right of action to enforce this obligation by seeking judicial review of fees charged by investment advisers under a breach of fiduciary duty standard. The plaintiffs, variable annuity program participants for which the separate account invested in EQ Advisors Trust funds, alleged that the investment adviser’s fees were excessive because it delegated virtually all of its duties to sub-advisers, but retained a disproportionate amount of the total advisory fees paid by the funds.