More On

Compliance: Court rulings show adherance to 'unambiguous' ERISA plans only

U.S. courts have demonstrated a willingness to adhere to unambiguous plan terms and a reluctance to interpret or “rewrite” plans

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in US Airways, Inc. v. McCutchen, holding that while equitable doctrines cannot “trump” the terms of an ERISA plan, they can be used to interpret, construe and fill gaps in language where plan terms are ambiguous. The important corollary to that rule, as noted in the McCutchen opinion, is that courts are not permitted to rewrite the terms of an ERISA plan when they are clear, plain and unambiguous.

To date, there has been no notable analysis of McCutchen in a court of appeals opinion. A handful of district court cases, however, have analyzed McCutchen and demonstrate how clear and unambiguous plan terms can successfully avoid the unintended application of equitable doctrines to plan terms.

Contributing Author

author image

James A. Hazlehurst

James A. Hazlehurst is a litigator with the Newport Beach office of Barger & Wolen.He handles ERISA-government and state law insurance coverage disputes (primarily life...

Bio and more articles

Join the Conversation

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.