ERISA-Ninth Circuit Remands Case Back To District Court To Consider Whether Plaintiff Is Entitled To The Remedy of Surcharge

In Gabriel v. Alaska Electrical Pension Fund, No. 12-35458 (9th Cir. 2014), plaintiff Gregory R. Gabriel appeals the district court’s dismissal of his claims against the defendant Alaska Electrical Pension Fund (the “Fund”) and other defendants under ERISA. In this case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) affirmed the district court’s determination that Gabriel failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to his entitlement to “appropriate equitable relief” under § 502(a)(3) of ERISA, in the form of equitable estoppel or reformation.

However, Court said that, because the district court made its ruling prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, the district court did not consider the availability of the monetary remedy against a trustee, sometimes called a surcharge, which the Court held may be “appropriate equitable relief” for purposes of § 502 (a)(3) of ERISA. Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court’s ruling that Gabriel is not entitled to any form of “appropriate equitable relief” and remanded the case for the district court to reconsider the availability of surcharge in this case, and, if available, whether Gabriel has adequately alleged a remediable wrong.

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