Arizona Law Review
Before 1974, participants in employer retirement plans seeking monetary relief for denied benefits were often hindered by procedural and jurisdictional obstacles. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) was passed in an effort to preclude hindrances and establish federally protected causes of action, which include equitable remedies and extracontractual damages. However, a jurisdictional split in the interpretation of ERISA in the federal circuits and among the states continues to impede participants full relief for their injuries. Furthermore, disparaging dicta in the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Russell incorrectly suggests Congress intentionally foreclosed contractual remedies not expressly stated in ERISA.
ERISA should protect participants and deter employers, or fiduciaries from abusing their positions, as Congress intended. When interpreting the plain language of the act and the legislative intent, ERISA proposed to deter the financial incentive of the administrators and employers from denying, or delaying requests for allotments from the participant’s retirement plan by establishing a full range of legal and equitable remedies under contract law and trust law theories, which include extracontractual damages. Under the teleological method of interpreting legislative intent when ambiguity arises, the court examines statutory language, prior case law, and legislative history. The legislative history makes clear that Congress intended ERISA to include remedies available under state contract and trust law, as well as federal common law including extracontractual damages.
George Lee Flint, Jr., ERISA: Extracontractual Damages Mandated For Benefit Claims Actions, 36 Ariz. L. Rev. 611 (1994).