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Published by Medill in John Marshal Law Review (2006) 39. Copyright 2006, John Marshal Law School. Used by permission.


A "judicial paradox" exists today concerning the state of equitable remedies available under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). This paradox exists not as a result of implementation of the statute by a federal regulatory agency, but rather as the result of numerous Supreme Court decisions interpreting the meaning of "appropriate equitable relief" for claims brought under Section 502(a)(3) of ERISA.

An adequate theory of "appropriate equitable relief" under Section 502(a)(3) of ERISA has yet to be developed. Ultimately, the law- equity paradigm has led to judicial decisions under Section 502(a)(3) that contravene Congress's intent to provide a uniform body of federal standards to govern employee benefit plans upon which plan participants and employers alike can depend.

This Article presents an alternative statutory and policy-based theory for judicial interpretation of the remedies authorized by Section 502(a)(3). The Article demonstrates how the Supreme Court may, consistent with the statutory scheme and the Court's own prior precedents, use this proposed alternative theory to resolve the judicial paradox of "equitable" relief available under Section 502(a)(3), and it provides a starting point for Congress, if it so chooses, to develop legislation to modernize the private civil claims and remedies available under title I of ERISA.

Whether Congress has the political will to take up this task, however, is less clear. The preferred approach, advocated by this Article, is for the Supreme Court itself to resolve the judicial paradox of "equitable" relief under Section 502(a)(3).

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