You Say Potato, I Say Potahto: When Plan Documents and SPDs Speak Inconsistently

Bravo. In the context of discussing the Supreme Court’s grant of cert to a case presenting the question of how to resolve conflicts between plan terms and summary plan descriptions, the authors of this client alert, Lisa Brogan and Joseph LaFramboise at Baker & McKenzie, provide, in only four pages, a succinct yet comprehensive overview of the standards applied across the country to this issue. Conflict between plan terms and the terms as described in summary plan descriptions is one of the more frequent issues that arise in benefit litigation under ERISA, raising questions about the level of talent and effort being committed to plan compliance by many companies, since the best defense to cases involving conflicts of this nature is to avoid them in the first place by ensuring that the description in both documents of the substantive benefit terms match up. That said though, as the case of the billion dollar scrivener’s error suggests, some issues are going to arise no matter how much time, effort and compliance dollars are lavished on a plan’s documentation and operations. Either way, though, this client advisory nicely sums up exactly where we are in each circuit right now when it comes to adjudicating these types of conflicts.