Promises, Promises . . .

Rob Hoskins over at the always interesting ERISABoard has an interesting story about a Second Circuit decision that essentially says “too bad” to a plan participant’s waiver/estoppel theory seeking benefits. The story is consistent with what seems to be a trend in which courts frequently fall back to the terms of the actual plan to decide a dispute, and seem unwilling to allow extrinsic, often but not always verbal, representations to participants to vary or even trump the written terms of the plan documents themselves. My own practice when it comes to participants who have been told one thing by a company representative and want to litigate the benefits they are entitled to as a result is to generally say that, yes, we can make that argument, but we will be a lot better off relying on the plan terms themselves and not on any sort of representation that might be to the contrary. It’s a platitude, to a certain extent, I know, but if you start from that premise, you will more often than not get the right strategy when mapping out litigation in cases in which representations were made that may have been contrary to the plan terms. To paraphrase that old handyman saw of “measure twice, cut once,” the way to think about these types of problems is plan terms first, estoppel claims second.