• Questioning ERISA Statutory Violations At 6th Circ.
  • June 2, 2017 | Authors: Jack S. Gearan; Todd D. Wozniak
  • Law Firms: Greenberg Traurig, LLP - Boston Office; Greenberg Traurig, LLP - Atlanta Office
  • On March 14, 2017, in Hitchcock v. Cumberland University, 851 F.3d 552, 2017 (6th Cir. March 14, 2017), the Sixth Circuit joined six other federal circuit courts in ruling that Employee Retirement Income Security Act plan participants are not required to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit when asserting statutory violation claims as opposed to claims for benefits.

    The only two circuits which currently require plan participants to exhaust administrative remedies for all plan-related claims, including claims for breach of fiduciary duty and other statutory violations, are the Seventh and Eleventh Circuits. Those Circuits have generally found that the exhaustion requirement for statutory claims is consistent with ERISA and at least some of the rationales underlying the exhaustion requirement for benefits claims. In particular, requiring exhaustion will save judicial resources as at least some claims are likely to be resolved through the administrative process; allows a reviewing fiduciary and participants an opportunity to correct potential errors or fiduciary breaches through a more efficient and less expensive process than litigation; may eliminate the incentives for plaintiffs to plead their benefits claims as statutory violations; and, even in those cases where the claims fiduciary denies the claim, leads to the creation of an administrative record which discloses the reasons for the denial that should aid a reviewing court and streamline any litigation.