According to John H. Langbein, Sterling Professor of Law and Legal History at Yale University the trouble got off to a bad start with Justice John Paul Stevens' in Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Russell, 473 U.S. 134 (1985) a case where the plaintiff was an employee who after getting her improperly denied disability income insurance benefits paid in full also sought money damages for physical and emotional injury for the delay of six months while the employer had denied payment. Because Section 502(a)(2) of ERISA ran to the benefit of the employee benefit plan (rather than the employee) and because the Ninth Circuit gave the plaintiff victory based on that section instead of Section 502(a)(3) which ran to the employee, the case was presented to the High Court in an awkward procedural posture. Russell, Mertens, and Great-West, by John Langbein, 103 Colum. L. Rev. 1317, 1340 (2003). This mistake in choosing which section of ERISA to base the claim would lead to an error by Justice Scalia later in Mertens.
Because the plaintiff in Russell won in the Ninth Circuit, and because all Ninth Circuit decisions must be reversed... Read More