Sixth Circuit Continues to Give Meaning to “Equitable Relief”

On June 18, 2015, the Sixth Circuit in Pearce v. Chrysler Group LLC Pension Plan, 2015 WL 3797385, found that a retirement plan participant could state an equitable claim under ERISA for supplemental pension benefits until he became eligible for Social Security benefits, notwithstanding the fact he was terminated prior to receiving the benefits and the Plan document provided that terminated employees were not eligible for those type benefits.

The Sixth Circuit cited to the Supreme Court’s decision in Cigna Corp. v. Amara, 131 S. Ct 1886 (2011), and found that the district court had abused its discretion in denying, on futility grounds, Pearce’s motion to amend his complaint to add equitable claims of reformation, estoppel and surcharge under 1132(a)(3), because “a material conflict between the SPD and the Pension Plan can give rise to a claim for equitable relief.” These equitable claims of (1) reformation; (2) estoppel; and (3) surcharge potentially provide equitable relief when an ERISA participant is precluded from direct relief under that statute for a claim of money benefits.