A Clear Signal on ERISA, the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act and Criminal Restitution Orders in the First Circuit

Here’s a curious case out of the First Circuit yesterday that is, and isn’t, about ERISA, but hints at how the First Circuit would handle a particular issue of some importance with regard to ERISA’s protection of retirement benefits. I have talked in the past about a decision out of the Ninth Circuit a few months back, United States v. Novak, in which the court held that the criminal restitution requirements imposed by the federal Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”) trumped the anti-alienation provisions of ERISA. Here’s my earlier post on that case, and here's a post on an article in the National Law Journal in which I am quoted on the Novak case. In United States v. Hyde, decided yesterday, the First Circuit suggests its agreement with Novak, strongly indicating that in this circuit retirement benefits can be attached to fulfill criminal restitution orders entered in accordance with the MVRA. Discussing whether the bankruptcy code or homestead exemptions under Massachusetts law prevented attachment by the government of certain proceeds, the First Circuit concluded in no uncertain terms that the “MVRA's language is unambiguous [and its] provisions apply ‘[n]otwithstanding any other Federal law.’" The Court relied heavily on the Novak decision as support, noting that Novak held that the “MVRA provisions supersede the non-alienation provisions of ERISA.”