E.D. Pennsylvania Notes Split Re: Who Constitutes Proper Defendant Under § 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA
Per Sparks v. Duckrey Enterprises, Inc., 2007 WL 320260 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 2007):
It is undisputed that under § 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA (29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)), a plan participant may bring a civil action to recover benefits due to him under the terms of the plan. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) (2006). The circuits are split, however, as to who constitutes a proper defendant to such an action. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, for example, has concluded that the plan itself constitutes the only proper defendant to an action brought under § 502(a)(1)(B). Gelardi v. Pertec Computer Corp. 761 F.2d 1323, 1324-25 (9th Cir.1985). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, on the other hand, has held that the plan, as well as other entities such as the plan administrator, may be proper defendants to such an action. Hall v.. Lhaco, Inc., 140 F.3d 1190, 1196 (8th Cir.1998).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has never directly addressed the issue of who constitutes a proper defendant to a § 502(a)(1)(B) claim, and district courts in the circuit are divided. One set of district courts has held that the plan itself is the only proper defendant. E.g., Hall v. Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc., No. 4:06-CV-1101, 2006 WL 3250869, at *9 (M.D.Pa. Nov. 8, 2006). The other set has held that both the plan and its fiduciaries are proper defendants. E.g., Briglia v. Horizon Healthcare Serv., Inc., No. Civ.A. 03-6033, 2005 WL 1140687, at *5 (D.N.J. May 13, 2005).
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This Court need not, however, decide between these two differing viewpoints. Assuming that both the plan and its fiduciaries are proper defendants to a § 502(a)(1)(B) claim, neither HAI nor Safeco can be held liable because neither party is a fiduciary of the Duckrey Plan.