No Extracontractual Damages Under ERISA, But Beneficiary May Seek Injunctive Relief
“It is well-established that extracontractual damages are not available under ERISA.” The United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia needed only a few lines in Dickens v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 2010 WL 3852346 (S.D.W.Va. Sept. 30, 2010), to apply Mass. Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Russell, 473 U.S. 134 (1985), and dispose of an extracontractual damages claim.
However, the District Court – again relying on Mass. Mutual v. Russell- determined that the plaintiff beneficiary could pursue a claim for injunctive relief concerning restoration of benefits denied by Aetna. The court said:
Aetna is correct that Plaintiff is unable to enforce ERISA using [29 U.S.C.] § 1132(a)(3). In order to pursue a § 1132(a)(3) action, the redress sought by Plaintiff must not only be a classic form of equitable relief, it must also “be appropriate under the circumstances.” Griggs v. E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co., 237 F.3d 371, 384 (4th Cir. 2001). Section 1132(a)(3) is not an “appropriate” form of relief when a plaintiff merely repackages a § 1132(a)(1)(B) claim . . . . The entirety of the relief Plaintiff seeks can be found in 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B).
From this conclusion, Aetna insists that Plaintiff is therefore foreclosed from pursuing his equitable claims at all. However, contrary to Aetna’s briefing, the Court finds that 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) provides a separate vehicle for the injunctive relief Plaintiff seeks. This conclusion flows from a plain reading of the text of 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). The Supreme Court specifically acknowledged as much in Massachusetts Mutual v. Russell:
To recover the benefits due to her, [plaintiff] could have filed an action pursuant to § 502(a)(1)(B) [29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) ]  to recover accrued benefits,  to obtain a declaratory judgment that she is entitled to benefits under the provisions of the plan contract, and  to enjoin the plan administrator from improperly refusing to pay benefits in the future.
473 U.S. 134, 146-47 (1985) (discussing ERISA’s “comprehensive and reticulated” remedial scheme). . . . [A]ll of the relief sought by Plaintiff is encompassed in § 1132(a)(1)(B) – restoration of his benefits, injunctive relief related to his plan, and declaratory judgment related to his plan. In light of the cited precedent and the Court’s interpretation of the relevant statutory provisions, Aetna’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim for equitable relief is DENIED.