United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Nathaniel M. Gorton, United States District Judge.
David B. Tracey, Daniel Guenther, Maria T. Nicholson and
Corrinne R. Fogg, individually and as representatives of a
class of participants and beneficiaries
("plaintiffs") on behalf of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Supplemental 401 (k) Plan ("the
Plan"), filed a complaint alleging breach of fiduciary
duty by Massachusetts Institute of Technology
("MIT") and related parties (collectively
"defendants") with respect to the supervision of
MIT's employee-sponsored defined contribution plan under
the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1101-1461.
filed a motion to strike plaintiffs' demand for a jury
trial and in February, 2019, Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler
allowed defendants' motion to strike (Docket No. 187).
before this Court is plaintiffs' objections to the
Magistrate Judge's order to strike plaintiffs' demand
for a jury trial. For the reasons set forth below, the
decision of the Magistrate Judge to strike plaintiffs'
jury demand is affirmed.
Standard of Review
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72, a district judge may, given a timely appeal,
set aside the order of a magistrate judge on a nondispostive
motion if it is "clearly erroneous or is contrary to
law". Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a)). Under the "contrary to
law" prong, the district court reviews pure questions of
law de novo. PowerShare, Inc. v. Syntel, Inc., 597
F.3d 10, 15 (1st Cir. 2010).
Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
guarantees a right to a jury trial in suits at common law.
U.S. Const, amend. VII; Fed.R.Civ.P. 38(a). Suits at common
law refer to suits in which legal rights are ascertained, as
opposed to suits in which equitable rights and remedies are
at issue. Chauffers, Teamsters & Helpers, Local No.
391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558, 564 (1990). To determine
whether a claim is legal or equitable in nature, courts
engage in a two-prong inquiry based on the nature of the
issue and the remedy sought, wherein the latter carries more
weight. Id. at 565.
aver that their claim is legal in nature because they are not
seeking recovery of a specifically identifiable fund but
instead seek recovery from defendants' general assets.
Defendants respond that courts typically construe an ERISA
claim as primarily based on the law of trusts which is
equitable in nature. This Court agrees with defendants that
in a suit such as this one, in which a beneficiary brings a
claim against a plan fiduciary, ERISA typically treats the
fiduciary as a trustee and the plan as a trust. CIGNA
Corp. v. Amara, 563 U.S. 421, 439 (2011). That means the
appropriate jurisdiction is a court of equity, not a court of
to the second prong of the inquiry (remedy sought),
plaintiffs claim they seek damages (in addition to other
equitable forms of relief) in an amount that would restore
the Plan to a position it would have occupied but for the
breaches of fiduciary duty. Plaintiffs argue that because
they are seeking to impose personal liability on the
defendants who do not possess the particular funds sought,
they are seeking monetary recovery from defendants'
general assets, thus rendering their relief legal, not
further assert that the Magistrate Judge erred because she
reviewed case law pertaining to 29 U.S.C. § 1132 (a) (1)
(B) (ERISA § 502 (a) (1) (B)), not subsection (a) (2) of
that statute which is actually at issue. They further argue
that the Magistrate Judge's reliance on dicta in
Amara was incorrect because the Supreme Court in
Mertens v. Hewitt Assocs., 508 U.S. 248 (1993) did
not rely on a distinction between fiduciaries and
non-fiduciaries in determining that the subject monetary
relief was, in fact, legal in nature. Finally, plaintiffs
submit that because the monetary award they seek is not
incidental or intertwined with the requested injunctive
relief, it would be appropriate for the Court to bifurcate
the issues, reserving the equitable claims for itself.
respond that the decision in Amara makes clear that
an award of "make-whole relief" is equitable when
sought against an ERISA fiduciary. They offer three more
persuasive arguments, to wit: 1) that courts have relied on
Amara to conclude that fiduciary duty claims for
monetary, make-whole relief under ERISA § 502 (a) (2) do
not implicate the Seventh Amendment's jury guarantee, 2)
that plaintiffs' attempt to distinguish Amara by
emphasizing Mertens, Great-W. Life &
Annuity Ins. Co. v. Knudson, 534 U.S. 204 (2002) and
Montanile v. Bd. of Trustees of Nat. Elevator Indus.
Health Benefit Plan, 136 S.Ct. 651 (2016) is misplaced
because those cases involved non-fiduciaries and 3) that the
decision in Cunningham v. Cornell Univ., No.
16-CV-6525 (PKC), 2018 WL 4279466 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 6, 2018) is
not controlling because this Court is not bound by Second
Circuit law and other courts with factually similar cases
have struck analogous jury demands.
contend, in essence, that by seeking monetary relief for
funds that are not in defendants' possession, their
remedy must be legal in nature. That argument has been
rejected by several courts nationwide. See, e.g.,
Geneva Henderson, et al., v. Emory University,
et al., No. 1:16-02920-CAP, Doc. No. 127 (N.D.Ga. Feb.
28, 2018) (allowing defendants' motion to strike
plaintiffs' jury demand under Amara); Pledger v.
Reliance Trust Co., No. 1:15-CV-4444-MHC, Doc. No. 100
(N.D.Ga. Nov. 7, 2017) (rejecting plaintiffs' reliance on
Great-West and Montanile and allowing
defendants' motion to strike a jury demand in an ERISA
§ 502 (a) (2) action); Gernandt v. SandRidge
Energy Inc., No. CIV-15-1001-D, 2017 WL 3219490, at
*12 (W.D. Okla. July 28, 2017) (distinguishing
Montanile and finding no right to a jury trial in a
§ 502(a)(2) action); Carver v. Bank of New
York Mellon, No. 15-CV-10180 (JPO), 2017 WL 1208598, at
*11-12 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2017) (distinguishing
Great-West and striking jury demand because the
plaintiffs' monetary remedy for their ERISA § 502
(a) (2) claim was "equitable in nature"); Bell
v. Pension Comm. of Ath Holding Co., LLC, No.
1:15-CV-02062-TWP- MPB, 2016 WL 4088737, at *2 (S.D. Ind.
Aug. 1, 2016) (distinguishing Mertens,
Great-West and Montanile with respect to