The Fourth Circuit on Equitable Relief and Varity v. Howe

Here is a neat post about a decision last week out of the Fourth Circuit concerning when equitable relief can be pursued by a plan participant. Supreme Court precedent already narrowly cabins that type of a claim, and the Fourth Circuit enforced that approach in the case before it, in which the participant tried to use the equitable relief provisions of ERISA to launch a full assault on the overall claims processing approach of the administrator, rather than being limited to simply seeking the benefits that were denied to her on her particular claim for benefits. As the post describes the issue before the court, and the outcome: 

"Varity v. Howe (U.S. 1996), permits individual participants to sue fiduciaries under 502(a)(3) for   breaching their fiduciary duties by failing to inform participants, or misleading them, about important changes in the plan. However, there is language in Varity which suggests that such equitable relief under the 502(a)(3) "catch-all provision" is only available if a participant does not have an adequate remedy under one of the more specific provisions under 502(a). . . [T]he Fourth Circuit [followed] this language in Varity when it found that since the plaintiff had an adequate claim for denial of benefits under 502(a)(1)(B), [the plaintiff’s claim for equitable relief ] under 502(a)(3) . . .was not appropriate. "

I read cases like this as part of a general judicial sense that administration of the plan belongs in general in the hands of the administrators and fiduciaries of the plan, with courts to step in only on the narrowest possible grounds and in the most clearly appropriate circumstances, rather than have an employee benefits system in which the courts play a far more intrusive role in the day in and day out management and operation of plans.

The Fourth Circuit decision itself, Korotynska v. Metropolitan Life Insurance, is here.