What happens when a plan participant seeks benefits that he or she claims are set forth in a summary plan description (“SPD”) but are found nowhere in the plan itself? On one level, the Supreme Court in Cigna Corp v. Amara answered this question decisively: SPDs and other written disclosures about the plan do not constitute terms of the plan and cannot modify the plan’s terms. Accordingly, participants cannot claim under ERISA Section 502(a)(1)(B) that they are entitled to benefits under the plan based on statements that appear only in the SPD.
However, the Supreme Court also stated that a participant could obtain “appropriate equitable relief” under ERISA Section 502(a)(3) for statutory disclosure violations. The Supreme Court identified three possible equitable remedies: reformation, estoppel, and surcharge. Although the Supreme Court made clear that the traditional requirements in equity for obtaining any such relief must be satisfied, it left to the district court the task of determining when such remedies are appropriate.
Continue Reading Amara Decision Affirms Broad Equitable Remedy for Inaccurate SPD