Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Eleventh Circuit and held that when a ERISA plan participant obtains a third-party settlement subject to a plan’s subrogation provision, and then dissipates the settlement on “nontraceable” items, the plan cannot enforce a lien against the participant’s general assets under Section 502(a)(3) of ERISA. In so holding, the Court made clear that: (i) a plaintiff could enforce an equitable lien only against specifically identified funds in the defendant’s possession, or traceable items purchased with the funds (e.g., a car); and (ii) expenditure of the entire identifiable fund on nontraceable items (e.g., food) destroys an equitable lien, and any personal claim against the defendant’s general assets would be a legal, not equitable, remedy, and thus not available under Section 502(a)(3). Because the lower courts did not determine whether the plan participant kept his settlement monies separate from his general assets, or dissipated the entirety of the funds on nontraceable assets, the Court remanded the case to the district court to make that determination. The case is Montanile v. Bd. of Trustees of Nat. Elevator Indus. Health Ben. Plan, 2016 WL 228344 (U.S. Jan. 20, 2016).
Stay tuned for Proskauer’s perspective on the implications of the Court’s decision.