A collection of resources to help employer/plan sponsors, litigators, employee benefit attorneys, plan service providers, and other advisors understand ERISA litigation issues and develop strategies for handling litigated benefits disputes.
Employee benefit plans are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the comprehensive (yet frequently amended) federal law enacted in 1974 and known ever since for its complexity. Not surprisingly, ERISA litigation issues have a significant impact on day-to-day benefit plan compliance. One of the best examples of this close relationship is the Supreme Court's Firestone ruling, which addressed the standard of judicial review in benefits disputes (Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101 (1989)). However, ERISA litigation issues also arise in contexts less commonly associated with benefits, including labor negotiations, corporate transactions, domestic relations law, and privacy (to name but a few).
Litigated benefits disputes occupy a significant portion of the federal court docket. As the most prominent example, the Supreme Court routinely decides one or more benefits-related cases each term, including recent decisions addressing retiree health benefits, same-sex marriage, and a steady stream of rulings under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (see Significant Employee Benefits Developments Since ERISA's Enactment Timeline). During 2020 and 2021, for example, the Supreme Court issued benefits-related rulings involving ERISA's fiduciary, preemption, and standing provisions, the ACA's individual mandate, and ESOP/stock drop litigation. In June 2022, the Supreme Court overturned its longstanding abortion rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, holding that there is not a right to abortion under the federal Constitution (Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022)). The Dobbs ruling has far-reaching implications for employer-sponsored health plans (see Abortion and Contraceptives Services for Group Health Plans Toolkit). The lower federal courts also handle a substantial number of employee benefit cases each year—including cases involving plan coverage disputes, penalties, and jurisdiction.
The need for attorneys (both litigators and compliance-focused) and other employee benefits professionals with ERISA litigation expertise is great. The continuously updated resources in this ERISA Litigation Toolkit are intended to help familiarize employer/plan sponsors, service providers, practitioners, and other advisors with some of the most common issues in litigated disputes under ERISA. Among other topics, these resources address the kinds of actions that may be brought under ERISA, the deadlines for filing benefits disputes, ERISA's broad preemption rule, and the court-imposed exhaustion requirement.