A federal judge presiding over the Northern District of Alabama federal case Saunders v. Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston had occasion to review the question – who is the plan administrator and who is a proper party to an ERISA lawsuit? In that case, Saunders sued J.C. Penny, the employer, who was also the plan sponsor. The long term disability plan, however, was administrated by Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston. The summary plan description provided that the “Benefits Administration Committee” was the plan administrator and not J.C. Penny. Accordingly, the court ruled that the employer was not a necessary party to the litigation and was due to be dismissed.
This case gives an example, again, as to why obtaining all plan documents and the summary plan description are critical to a case. Also, understanding who the correct party is to be sued is important. Often an insurance company will be the only entity having regular dealings with a client, but a review of the plan document is important to know who is the proper party to sue.