Section 1132(c) Applies Only to the Actual Plan Adminstrator

The recent summary judgment decision in Kansky v Aetna Life Insurance Company and Coca-Cola Enterprises,, by Judge Woodlock of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which I discussed in an earlier posting, contains nice discussions of several particular issues that often arise under ERISA and in ERISA litigation. In a previous post I discussed the de facto claim administrator theory and the question of whether any entity other than the designated plan administrator can be liable for penalties under 29 U.S.C. 1132(c) for failing to produce certain documents upon request. The law in this circuit, I pointed out, is no. Judge Woodlock dropped a footnote in the Kansky summary judgment opinion that sums up the point nicely:

Kansky's May 3, 2004 request for forty different kinds of materials was addressed to Dawn Lee Dumond at Aetna Life Insurance Company in Lexington, KY. (AR000960-AR000965) The Summary of Coverage document and the LTD Plan brochure given to employees establish that Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., or its Welfare Benefits Committee, is the "Plan Administrator" for purposes of ERISA, not Aetna. (AR000165, AR000209) See 29 U.S.C. 1002(16)(A)(1) (The administrator is "the person specifically so designated by the terms of the instrument under which the plan is operated."). And it is only the administrator that may be held liable for failing to mail requested material pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 1132(c) when that material has been requested. Consequently, Aetna informed Kansky in a letter dated June 17, 2004 replying to the document request that "Coca Cola Enterprises (CCE), and not Aetna Life Insurance Company (Aetna), is the Plan Administrator fo the CCE ERISA Plan" and it is "the Plan Administrator [who] is obligated to provide Plan documents upon request." (AR000114). There is no evidence in the record that a request was later made to Coca-Cola Enterprises. In any event, Aetna forwarded the claim file and the Plan documents to Kansky in June 2004. (AR000458-AR000460).

Thus, there is now even more support in the First Circuit for the proposition that only requests made to the actual plan administrator can possibly trigger exposure under 29 U.S.C. 1132(c). Even better, this proposition is now supported by the most recent authority on this question in this circuit.