ERISA-Ninth Circuit Rules That Plaintiffs Can Seek Equitable Relief Under ERISA Section 502(a)(3), Even Though They Also Claimed Additional Benefits Under ERISA Section 502(a)(1)(B)

In Moyle v. Liberty Mutual Ret. Ben. Plan, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 9251 (9th Cir. 2016), the plaintiffs were former employees of Old Golden Eagle Insurance Company (“Golden Eagle”). Golden Eagle did not offer a retirement plan to its employees. When Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (“Liberty Mutual”) purchased Golden Eagle through a conservatorship sale, the plaintiffs became employees of Liberty Mutual. The plaintiffs state that while the sale was underway, Liberty Mutual told the plaintiffs that they would receive past service credit for the time they worked with Golden Eagle under Liberty Mutual’s retirement plan. But, after Liberty Mutual purchased Golden Eagle, Liberty Mutual denied the plaintiffs’ claims for past service credit. Liberty Mutual argues that it never made any representation to the plaintiffs that they would receive past service credit for their time with Golden Eagle. Liberty Mutual also argues that under the terms of the retirement plan, the plaintiffs are entitled only to past service credit for purposes of eligibility, vesting, early retirement, and spousal benefits, and not for retirement benefits accrual.

The plaintiffs then filed this class action against Liberty Mutual for ERISA. At the district court, the plaintiffs asserted four claims for relief: (1) the plaintiffs are entitled to past service credit under the terms of the retirement plan, under section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, (2) the plaintiffs are entitled to equitable relief under section 502(a)(3) of ERISA, (3) Liberty Mutual violated its duty to provide the plaintiffs with documents relevant to their claim and (4) Liberty Mutual violated its duty to disclose information about past service retirement credit in its summary plan descriptions. The plaintiffs seek the equitable remedies of reformation and surcharge for both claims (2) and (4). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Liberty Mutual on all four claims. The plaintiffs appealed on claims (1), (2), and (4).

Upon reviewing the case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) affirmed the district court’s ruling on claims (1) and (4), but it reversed the district court’s ruling as to claim (2). The Court said that the plaintiffs can seek equitable relief under section 502(a)(3) of ERISA, even though they also seek additional benefits under section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA.

 

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