WASHINGTON – The Pension Rights Center released the following statement from Karen Ferguson today in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Amara v. CIGNA:
“This is a very important decision for employees and retirees. The Court ruled that, if pension plan trustees deliberately mislead plan participants, and the participants can show that they were harmed by the mis-statements, a court has the power to ‘reform’ the terms of plan to conform to what the participants were promised in a summary plan description (SPD) and provide them with the benefits they thought they would receive.
“The court rejected the legal theories advanced by both parties (and the district court). Contrary to the claims of CIGNA, the participants do not always have to show ‘detrimental reliance’ in order to be awarded ‘equitable relief.’ There are other ‘equitable’ theories on which a court can award relief. Contrary to the claims of participants and the Solicitor General, a summary plan description is not a plan document so participants cannot rely on an SPD to enforce their rights under the terms of a plan.
“The case now goes back to the federal district court so that it can implement the standards set forth in the decision. Although the district court is given considerable leeway, the standards laid down by the Court in this decision make it likely that the CIGNA employees and retirees will get the pensions that they had been led to believe that they would get.“
The Pension Rights Center is the nation’s only consumer group dedicated solely to protecting and promoting the retirement security of American workers, retirees, and their families. The Pension Rights Center filed an amicus brief in the Amara case, along with the National Employment Lawyers Association and United Policyholders, in support of CIGNA employees and retirees.