Some Thoughts on the Oral Argument in MetLife v. Glenn

I had a chance over the weekend after a busy few days to ruminate on the oral argument in MetLife v. Glenn, a transcript of which you can find here; you can find Workplace Prof’s review of the argument here and a thorough recap of the argument here, at SCOTUS blog. My take? There will be some sort of rule announced governing the standard of review that a court is to apply when presented with an appeal from a decision by an administrator functioning under a so-called structural conflict of interest - how’s that for going out on a limb, since that’s what the Court accepted cert to address? Moreover, there can’t help but be a rule of general applicability of some type set forth by the Court for these situations, since, as I discussed in detail here for instance, there is wide divergence among the circuit courts of appeals in the decision making rules they apply when confronted with that situation; given the idee fixe that ERISA is supposed to give rise to uniform rules governing employee benefits across the country (an idea that in practice, tends to be honored more in the breach, something particularly illustrated at the district court level where you can often find two judges in the same circuit reaching opposite conclusions on the same open issue), this is not a situation that can be allowed to continue. That said, however, those hoping this case would lead to a wholesale reinterpretation of the standards of review that apply to ERISA cases, and more particularly to an overall rejection of both the “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review and of the existing formulations as to when that standard of review applies, are going to be soundly disappointed; I read the argument as telegraphing a fixation on determining, and creating (and then announcing), exactly what the technical rule should be when arbitrary and capricious review is applied by a supposedly conflicted administrator, and as telegraphing a lack of interest in changing the overall structure of the case law governing the standard of review question.