Excerpted from the October 17, 2019 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly
A Massachusetts District Court Judge has found that plaintiffs who brought a class action suit against their employer for mismanaging its employee retirement plan were not entitled to a jury trial. The plan is subject to the Federal Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Noting that the plaintiffs had “no right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution,” and calling it a “close call,” the judge did order an advisory jury to be empaneled.
Pierce Atwood litigation partner Gavin G. McCarthy, who also defends ERISA class actions, believes that the judge’s decision would come as no surprise to plan administrators. “A plaintiff suing under ERISA for breach of fiduciary duty will typically have a very steep climb trying to get a jury given the statute’s roots in the common law of trusts, where most proceedings were equitable.”
Gavin believes that the judge’s decision in ordering an advisory jury could “motivate parties in future cases to similarly characterize the jury question as a ‘close call’ and suggest an advisory jury as “a fallback position.” Gavin also notes that empaneling an advisory jury creates “a whole different set of issues,” since by doing so, “the court is creating an inefficiency because it will need to exercise its independent judgment once the jury renders its advisory verdict.”
The complete article and all of Gavin’s comments can be found in the October 17, 2019 edition of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.