Supreme Court Creates Confusion Concerning Availability of Equitable Relief Under ERISA Where An Employer Provides Inadequate and Misleading Information About a Plan's Terms


Last month, in Cigna Corporation v. Amara, 131 S. Ct. 1866 (2011), the United States Supreme Court held that a company will not have to abide by a summary plan description that conflicts with the terms of the plan it describes under Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, a provision that authorizes suits to enforce rights or recover benefits under the terms of a plan. In Amara the company had changed from a basic defined benefit retirement plan to an account balance plan. In the process, the company provided employees information (some of which was in the form of a summary plan description) that the district court found to be incomplete and misleading, in violation of the plan administrator’s disclosure obligations under ERISA. To remedy the situation, the district court in essence ordered the company to provide retirement benefits consistent with what the incomplete and misleading disclosures implied the benefits would be. The district court concluded that Section 502(a)(1)(B) authorized it to grant this relief and did not decide whether any other provision of ERISA could provide relief. The Second Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court’s holding that Section 502(a)(1)(B) does not authorize the relief the district court had granted provided sufficient basis, without more, to vacate the decisions of the courts below and remand the case for a determination as to whether any other provision of ERISA could allow for relief. Indeed, Justice Scalia (joined by Justice Thomas) correctly said so in an opinion concurring only in the judgment vacating the lower court decisions.

Please see full article below for more information.

LOADING PDF: If there are any problems, click here to download the file.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:


Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:

Sign up to create your digest using LinkedIn*

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.

Already signed up? Log in here

*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.