Firestone Tire & Rubber Company v. Bruch

PETITIONER: Firestone Tire & Rubber Company
RESPONDENT: Bruch
LOCATION: Canton Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 87-1054
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 489 US 101 (1989)
ARGUED: Nov 30, 1988
DECIDED: Feb 21, 1989

ADVOCATES:
Christopher J. Wright - as Amicus Curiae supporting Respondents
David M. Silberman - on behalf of the Respondents
Martin Wald - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Firestone Tire & Rubber Company v. Bruch

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 30, 1988 in Firestone Tire & Rubber Company v. Bruch

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 21, 1989 in Firestone Tire & Rubber Company v. Bruch

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in three cases will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

The first of these cases is Firestone Tire & Rubber Company versus Bruch, No. 87-1054.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

It requires us to address two questions concerning ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Petitioner, Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, maintained and was the plan administrator in fiduciary of a termination pay plan and two other unfunded employee benefit plans governed by ERISA.

After Firestone sold its Plastics Division to Occidental Petroleum, the respondents, who are Plastic Division employees, rehired by Occidental, sought benefits under the termination pay plan.

Firestone denied their request on the ground that there had not been a reduction enforced that authorize benefits under the terms of the plan.

Several respondents also sought information about their benefits under all three plans pursuant to a provision of ERISA which requires plan administrators to provide information to plan participants requesting it.

Firestone denied those requests on the ground that the respondents were no longer participants in the plans.

Respondents then filed suit in Federal District Court for severance benefits and for damages based on the failure to provide them information.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Firestone and the Court of Appeals reversed holding that Firestone’s denial of benefits was subject to de novo review and that the term participant is to find in ERISA included any person who claim to be, but in fact was not, entitled to benefits.

We granted certiorari and we now affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand to the Court of Appeals.

For reasons explained in our opinion filed with the Clerk today, we unanimously hold that a plan administrator’s denial of benefits is to be reviewed under a de novo standard unless the plan at issue gives the administrator discretion to determine eligibility for benefits or constru uncertain terms in the plan.

We also hold that the term participant is to find in ERISA means either an employee in or reasonably expected to be in currently covered employment, or a former employee who has a reasonable expectation of returning to covered employment or having a colorable claim to vested benefits.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.