High Court Accepts Xerox ERISA Case for Review

U.S. Supreme Court justices have agreed to consider an appeal of a case involving the method used by the Xerox Corp. pension plan to figure out how much to offset a participant’s benefits to properly reflect distributions already taken.

The case involved possible violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The high court accepted the case of Frommert vs. Conkright for oral arguments during its fall term, which begins in October, according to Supreme Court documents.

The documents indicated that justices agreed to consider two issues arising from a July 2008 Frommert ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals including:

Whether the 2nd Circuit erred in ruling that a district court has no obligation to defer to an ERISA plan administrator’s reasonable interpretation of the terms of the plan if the administrator arrived at its interpretation outside the context of an administrative benefits claim. Justices said the appellate court’s decision was at odds with prior Supreme Court and federal appellate court decisions.

Whether the 2nd Circuit mistakenly ruled that a district court has “allowable discretion” to adopt any “reasonable” interpretation of the terms of an ERISA plan when the plan interpretation issue arises in the course of calculating additional benefits due under the plan as a result of an ERISA violation. The justices said this holding also conflicted with prior case law—a circumstance often used as a requirement for the high court to accept a case for its docket.

Participants claimed the employer violated ERISA provisions dealing with summary plan descriptions, participant notice, and anti-cutback rules for the Xerox Corporation Retirement Income Guarantee Plan.

The decision by the nation’s high court relates to the second of two 2nd Circuit holdings in Frommert, one in which the 2nd Circuit found Xerox had violated ERISA in several respects and a second in which the appellate court considered a remedy for the ERISA violations without first sending it to the plan administrator for input (see “Method of Offset for Prior Distributions Violates Anti-Cutback Rule“). The 2nd Circuit asserted the lower court judge was not required to get the administrator’s ideas about a remedy.

The 2nd Circuit ruling is here.