In Kennedy v. Plan Administrator for DuPont Savings & Investment Plan, the Fifth Circuit correctly adopted the statutory approach but overreached in its reasoning, thereby raising two potential problems. This Note explains the Fifth Circuit's opinion and how the Supreme Court has refined the Fifth Circuit's analysis to eliminate the pitfalls. It then concludes by describing an unresolved issue in the equitable treatment of retirement plan death benefits.
Part II gives an overview of the history of ERISA and the congressional policy objectives behind it. This section then describes the split among the circuit courts of appeal and state supreme courts, and examines ERISA's preemption of state law, the only point shared by both approaches. Part III begins by analyzing what the Fifth Circuit did right in terms of the black letter law of ERISA, the policies underlying ERISA, and the general equities surrounding retirement plan death benefits. This section then highlights two problems with the Fifth Circuit's approach, explains how the Supreme Court resolved these problems, and describes an issue raised, but not resolved, by the Supreme Court's opinion. Part IV concludes that the result in Kennedy, as defined by the Fifth Circuit and refined by the Supreme Court, is the correct and common-sense approach to retirement plan death benefits.