Washington Law Review


Alan R. Ross


The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) preempts state laws that relate to employee benefit plans and allows only equitable relief for those who are injured by decisions of ERISA plan administrators. Even though the interpretation of ERISA's preemptive power has changed since 1974, ERISA still poses a significant challenge to plaintiffs in actions for damages against plan administrators. This Comment suggests that another federal law, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which is explicitly not preempted by ERISA, may provide relief. The challenges that a plaintiff bringing an action against plan administrators may face include proving the "pattern" element of the RICO violation and overcoming the requirement that a civil plaintiff be "injured in his business or property." This Comment posits that in a case where the plaintiff proves that the denial of rightful benefits is an administrator's regular way of doing business, the "pattern" element may be met. It also argues that the damage caused by a fraudulent denial of benefits under an ERISA plan may well be an injury to the business or property of the participant and concludes that the civil cause of action under RICO may be a mechanism for litigants to use in obtaining a remedy when ERISA's remedies are insufficient

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