Federal Court Affirms Availability of ERISA Surcharge Remedy to Employees

Emergent LLP recently scored a major victory in an action pending in the Southern District of New York, successfully convincing Senior U.S. District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein to reconsider a prior ruling, and confirming the availability of an important remedy to employees who have suffered harm after being misled by their private pension and health care plans.

In 2011, the Supreme Court issued its decision in CIGNA v. Amara, 563 U.S. 421 (2011), and clarified that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) entitles employees harmed by a breach of fiduciary duty to recover monetary compensation in the form of equitable remedies, which focus on the court’s view of fairness.  Since CIGNA, attorneys for employees and their beneficiaries have fought for a broad interpretation of when these monetary remedies are available, while attorneys for ERISA fiduciaries, such as employers and plan administrators, have fought to limit their availability.

Last summer, Emergent filed suit against investment bank Societe Generale on behalf of the widow of a former Societe Generale attorney for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA.  The lawsuit stems from misrepresentations made by Societe Generale regarding the attorney’s life insurance benefits, and seeks monetary compensation for the harm caused by those misrepresentations under the equitable remedy known as “surcharge.”

Societe Generale moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but Judge Hellerstein denied the motion, allowing the widow’s claims against her husband’s former employer to proceed.  However, Judge Hellerstein struck the claim for surcharge, holding that in order to receive the remedy, the widow was required to show “intentionally deceptive conduct” on the part of Societe Generale.  Emergent moved for reconsideration of the order, on the grounds that the Supreme Court did not endorse any such requirement in CIGNA.  While such motions are rarely granted, the judge agreed that his ruling was in error, and on March 15th granted the motion, restoring the surcharge claim.  A copy of the order is linked here.

The case is captioned Goldenberg v. SG Americas, Inc., Case No. 16-cv-6390 (S.D.N.Y.).  Emergent partner Peter Roldan leads the firm’s representation of the employee’s widow.  To find out more about how he and Emergent can help you with your dispute, contact us.