WHAT HAPPENS TO THAT PAST-DUE SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY CHECK?

In Montanile v. Board of Trustees of National Elevator Industry Health Benefit Plan, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 651 (2016), the United States Supreme Court recently held that ERISA does not permit an ERISA plan administrator to recover reimbursement in equity from a plan participant’s general assets and that strict equitable tracing requirements apply to equitable actions seeking reimbursement. This strongly suggests that disability insurers seeking recovery of social security disability overpayments cannot enforce such actions against a participant’s general assets and would encounter considerable difficulty enforcing equitable relief against the dissipated proceeds of a social security disability award. Legal relief is what people generally think of when they think of courts and lawyers. A sues B for breach of contract, or for negligence. If one of the King’s subjects had no way to obtain relief in a court of law, he might still be able to appeal to the King’s chancellor – the “keeper of the King’s conscience,” and obtain relief directly from the King himself. This eventually became what were called chancery courts, which developed in parallel to the courts of law. The rules for equitable actions are very different. In Montanile, the United States Supreme Court held that ERISA, § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C.A. § 1132(a)(3), which authorizes recovery of “appropriate equitable relief,” does not permit an ERISA plan administrator to recover health care benefits paid on behalf of a plan participant from the participant’s general assets if the ERISA plan participant dissipates the proceeds on non-traceable items, such as food and travel because allowing recovery from the insured’s general assets would constitute legal, not equitable, relief. To put it simply, a disability insurance company regulated by ERISA seeking to recover an SSD overpayment after Montanile can offset future long-term disability payments but may encounter a great deal more difficulty enforcing an equitable lien against a past-due social security award which has been spent on the daily costs of living. Read about the Montanile decision in greater detail at: ERISA BENEFICIARY’S DISSIPATION OF SETTLEMENT PROCEEDS PRECLUDES ERSIA PLAN HEALTH INSURER FROM ENFORCING ITS REIMBURSEMENT RIGHTS

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