Pension Estimates: Not Worth The Computer They Are Printed On

Here’s an interesting decision out of the First Circuit yesterday, concerning errors in providing estimates of pension amounts to participants and whether a participant can hold the sponsor to the erroneous estimate, rather than receive only the correct amount under the actual terms of the retirement plan in question. Short answer? A participant only gets what the plan, by its express terms, grants, and not the larger erroneously estimated amount. Although it is fair to say that the actual outcome of any such dispute will depend on the actual facts of a given circumstance and the particular theories under which a particular participant elects to proceed, this case reflects that enforcing the estimate, rather than simply receiving the lower actual amount due under the plan, is an uphill battle, at best. In this particular case, Livick v Gillette, the employee struck out both on attempts to obtain the higher amount by arguing that the erroneous estimate was an actionable breach of fiduciary duty, and on an estoppel theory. The court’s analysis of the estoppel theory is particularly noteworthy, as it provides great fodder for any sponsor or fiduciary defending against an estoppel claim related to an ERISA governed plan. If you are litigating a case in the First Circuit concerning an estoppel claim related to the benefits available under a particular ERISA governed plan, this case would be the place to start.