Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
Plaintiff sued defendant alleging breach of fiduciary duty and sought damages under the "other appropriate equitable relief" provision of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3), where defendant denied plaintiff's life insurance coverage claims for her deceased daughter on the grounds that her daughter did not qualify for coverage under the plan's "eligible dependent children" provision. At issue was whether section 1132(a)(3) allowed the remedy of surcharge, which would permit recovery of the life insurance proceeds lost by plaintiff because of defendant's breach of fiduciary duty. Also at issue was whether the court should recognize equitable estoppel as part of the common law of ERISA. Further at issue was whether the district court erred in granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. The court held that the remedy of surcharge was not available under section 1132(a)(3) and that the district court did not err in limiting plaintiff's damages to the premiums withheld by defendant where plaintiff sought a legal, not equitable, remedy, and that, to the extent plaintiff sought to sanction defendant, this remedy was also not allowed under ERISA. The court also declined to use estoppel principles to modify the unambiguous terms of an ERISA plan. The court further held that the district court did not err in granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment where defendant lacked standing to prosecute its cross-appeal where defendant was not aggrieved by a judgment requiring it to pay an amount that it always agreed that it owed and where defendant already refunded the premiums.