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No Viable Claim Exists Under § 502(a)(3) Where Relief Is Available Under § 502(a)(1)(B)

No Viable Claim Exists Under § 502(a)(3) Where Relief Is Available Under § 502(a)(1)(B)

Harp v. Liberty Mutual Group, Inc.,, 2013 WL 5462290 (M.D.N.C. Sept. 30, 2013)

ERISA and Life Insurance News
(December 2013)

Harp submitted a claim under her employer's benefit plan for total disability benefits. The claim was paid for a number of years, but benefits were terminated when the claims fiduciary determined that she no longer met the test for disability.

In the ensuing lawsuit, Harp not only sought benefits under the plan under ERISA Section 502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), she also brought claims which she subsequently denominated as claims for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA Section 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3).

In response to a motion to dismiss and arguments that the additional claims were not viable because Harp had a remedy under Section 502(a)(1)(B) in the form of a claim for benefits, Harp cited a number of cases, including the Supreme Court's decision in CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 131 S.Ct. 1866 (2011), which addressed the equitable relief available under Section 502(a)(3). Harp did not "explain why § 1132(a)(1)(B) does not afford her adequate relief," the court noted.

The implied argument of Harp addressed by the court was that Amara and subsequent cases somehow changed the limitation established by the Supreme Court in Varity Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489 (1996), on equitable relief available under Section 502(a)(3) when a participant had a viable claim for benefits under Section 502(a)(1)(B).

The court rejected that argument, reasoning that Amara and the other cases cited by Harp "do not change the previously-established requirement that relief may be granted under § 1132(a)(3) only if relief is not available under § 1132(a)(1)(B)." The court wrote: "In the present case, because Plaintiff has an adequate remedy for the allegedly improper denial of her benefits under § 1132(a)(1)(B), she may not proceed under § 1132(a)(3)."

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H. Sanders Carter
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Kenton J. Coppage
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Dorothy H. Cornwell
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