:: DOL Argues Duty To Disclose Transcends Statutory Reporting & Disclosure Requirements

The The Division of Plan Benefits Security of the Office of the Solicitor has posted the amicus brief filed in Hecker v. Deere. While much of the brief is devoted to retirement plan issues, the discussion of disclosure obligations in Section II is of interest in the employee welfare benefit plan context.

You can read the brief here.

The district court held that the scope of disclosure is defined by statute, stating:

There is no merit to plaintiffs’ contention that disclosure not required by the statutory disclosure requirements is separately required by the general ERISA fiduciary obligations. Disclosure requirements are generally limited to those expressly prescribed by the statutory language of ERISA. Ames v. American Nat. Can Co., 170 F.3d 751, 759 (7th Cir.1999).

Even the case relied upon by plaintiffs, Jordan v. Federal Express Corp., 116 F.3d 1005 (3d Cir.1997), confirms that while Courts have latitude to develop the meaning of general fiduciary duties, that latitude is limited as applied to disclosure obligations. “Because the statutory disclosure and reporting requirements and remedies were carefully considered and described by Congress, we required a showing of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ for a participant to receive an equitable remedy under § 502(a)(3).” Id. at 1013. Where as here Congress has by statute and related regulation, created detailed rules governing disclosure requirements, it would be inappropriate to ignore and augment them using the general power to define fiduciary obligations.

The district court decision may be read here (via BenefitsLink). The decision is on appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.