Fiduciary Litigation Involving Defined Benefit Plans: What to Make of Thole v. US Bank

Benefits Law Journal Autumn 2020

Lee T. Polk, Of Counsel to Epstein Becker Green in the Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice, in the firm’s Chicago office, authored an article in the Benefits Law Journal, titled “Fiduciary Litigation Involving Defined Benefit Plans: What to Make of Thole v. US Bank.”

Following is an excerpt (see below to download the full version in PDF format):

In 1974, Congress passed what was then considered sorely needed remedial legislation entitled the Employee Retirement Income Security Act—ERISA. Today that acronym is recognized by virtually every voter in America for what it promised the country. One of those promises—one might argue the sine qua non—was “ready access to the Federal courts.” In the decades since ERISA’s enactment, the courts have interpreted the Act’s promises in various ways. At the heart of the enforcement scheme, giving muscle to the Act’s wide-ranging promises, is Section 502(a). Section 502(a)(1)(B) grants participants and beneficiaries the right to recover benefits, enforce the terms of the plan, and clarify rights to future benefits under the plan. Section 502(a)(2) grants participants, beneficiaries, fiduciaries, and the Department of Labor (DOL) the right to recover lost plan assets due to breach of fiduciary duty and to obtain other relief. And Section 502(a)(3) as well as Section 502(a)(5) grant participants, beneficiaries, fiduciaries, and DOL the right to enjoin violations of ERISA or the terms of the plan, to obtain appropriate equitable relief to redress violations, and to enforce the provisions of the Act.

Now, several decades after ERISA’s enactment, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Thole v. U.S. Bank, N.A.6 After literally hundreds of thousands of rulings in ERISA lawsuits since 1974, it is important to take stock of this significant decision and ask what are we to make of it going forward. This article focuses on Thole’s impact on Article III standing in connection with defined benefit plans.