CIGNA v. Amara: The Latest on Remedies for a Misleading Summary Plan Description

By H. Douglas Hinson and Jahnisa Tate

Alston & Bird, LLP

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, which vacated the district court’s opinion and remanded the case, may or may not be read as a win for CIGNA. A unanimous Supreme Court held that plan terms cannot be “reformed” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) § 502(a)(1)(B) based on misleading summaries and descriptions that violate the disclosure requirements of ERISA. Six justices went further and stated, in what concurring Justices Scalia and Thomas described as “blatant dictum,” that:

  1. reformation may be an appropriate equitable remedy under ERISA § 502(a)(3); and
  2. the equitable remedy of “surcharge” may require fiduciaries of benefit plans to pay money to remedy “actual harm” proximately caused by a breach of fiduciary duty.