Monday, September 18, 2006
Donald Bogan (Oklahoma) and Benjamin Fu (student) have published in the Oklahoma Law Review: ERISA: no further inquiry into conflicted plan administrator claim denials, 58 Okla. L. Rev. 637-684 (2005).
From the preface of the article:
Part II below provides background analysis of the ERISA standard of review controversy. This Part illustrates the continuing failure of the circuit courts to produce a consistent and just claims process in employee benefit cases where courts defer to self-interested plan administrators. The analysis begins with Firestone and its pronouncement that trust law should guide review of challenged benefit claim denials.
Next, Part II argues that the lower courts have struggled to tease a clear message from Firestone's "opaque" standard of review analysis. In particular, this Part explores the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals's attempt in Fought to cure this wounded process, and we describe the unfortunate failure of the Tenth Circuit to discover a trust law-based antidote to Firestone.
Finally, Part III of this comment works within the parameters of Firestone to re-introduce the historic trust law-based solution to the problem of self- dealing fiduciaries: the no-further-inquiry rule. Here the article capitalizes on prolific trust law and ERISA scholar Professor John H. Langbein's recent examination of the no-further-inquiry rule. Professor Langbein's analysis is adapted to support a thesis that he did not reach, by applying his discussion of the no-further-inquiry rule to ERISA benefit cases. This Part describes how the summary adjudicative process, invented by contemporary ERISA courts under the guise of deferential review, mimics the archaic circumstances existing in courts of equity that spawned the no-further-inquiry rule.
Finally, Part IV concludes that ERISA courts should apply the no-further-inquiry rule to irrebuttably counter the mischief that courts have historically presumed attach to the actions of self-dealing fiduciaries. Ultimately, by application of the no-further-inquiry rule in ERISA benefit claims, courts can, and should, return federal Article III trial judges to their role as neutral, de novo referees in plan participant claims for benefits due under ERISA.
All ERISA people should give this article a read when they have the chance. It brings
some common sense to this increasingly arcane area of ERISA law (OK, since all
of ERISA is somewhat arcane, let's say "super-arcane area" of ERISA law).