Although lawsuits challenging employee benefit denials under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) are brought as “civil actions” in accordance with the United States Code, the manner in which such cases are adjudicated deviates from the norm according to a recent article authored by Mark DeBofsky, “A Critical Appraisal of the Current State of ERISA Civil Procedure – An Examination of How Courts Treat “Civil Actions” Brought Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.” (Chicago-Kent Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal -18 Empl. Rts. and Empl. Pol. J. 203 (2014)).

Despite the Supreme Court’s delineation of what the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Congress mean when a statute authorizes an aggrieved party to bring a “civil action,” ERISA court proceedings have taken on the characteristics of litigation involving federal administrative agency determinations.

The article examines how ERISA pretrial proceedings, summary judgment, and even trials markedly differ from the norm. Despite well-defined rules that Congress intended to apply to all “civil actions,” the procedures followed in ERISA cases lack statutory support and may even raise due process and other Constitutional concerns.

Despite the complexity of the civil procedure issues discussed in the article, the implications are enormous since the scope of ERISA affects health insurance, disability and life insurance, as well as retirement benefits.It is undeniable that the ability of employees to enforce their right to receive promised benefits are issues of paramount concern to all. 

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