October 19, 2021

Volume XI, Number 292

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October 19, 2021

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October 18, 2021

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District Courts in 11th and 4th Circuits Re-affirm Varity Rule in Face of Amara-like Claims

After Varity Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489, 116 S. Ct. 1065 (1996), a well-established rule developed throughout the Circuits:   When a claimant has an adequate available claim for employee benefits under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), a claim for equitable relief under ERISA § 502(a)(3) is duplicative and therefore not appropriate.  See e.g., Korotynska v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 474 F. 3d 101 (4th Cir. 2006).  In 2011, along came Cigna v.Amara, 131 S. Ct. 1866 (2011), in which the Court provided fresh suggestions of equitable remedies (such as surcharge) that a claimant might bring under ERISA § 502(a)(3).  This ignited a resurgence by claimants bringing employee benefit lawsuits to tag on an equitable relief claim for good measure.

Last month, District Courts in the 11th and 4th Circuit joined courts in other Circuits (see e.g.,Biglands v. Raytheon, 801 F. Supp. 2d 781 (N.D. Ind. 2011)), in finding nothing in Amara that alters the Varity rule.  In Spivey v. Cigna, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130219 (M.D. Ala.  Sept. 12, 2013), the District Court heftily rejected the argument by the plaintiff seeking disability benefits that Amarachanged the Varity rule.  Likewise, in Harp v. Liberty Mutual, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140083 (M.D. N.C. Sept. 30, 2013), also involving a disability benefit claim, the magistrate judge rejected the plaintiff’s citation to Amara, re-affirmed the Varity rule, and recommended dismissal of the plaintiff’s causes of action brought under ERISA § 502(a)(3).  (As of date of reporting, the plaintiff has not filed an objection to the Recommendation.)

Copyright © 2021 Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume III, Number 296
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The firm's Labor and Employment group has an established record representing employers in the mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States and throughout the country. The Labor and Employment group's practice consists of two principal elements: First, we represent employers in employment litigation before federal and state courts, agencies, and arbitration panels. This includes representing employers in wage and hour class actions and other multi-plaintiff litigation, non-competition and restrictive covenant enforcement, and employee raiding and defection, trade secret,...

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