Supreme Court Guidance Expected on Resolving Conflicts Between Benefit Plan Documents and Summary Plan Descriptions

January 11, 2011

Author: Patrick W. McGovern and Gina M. Schneider View article An issue that employee benefits professionals frequently confront is resolving the conflict between the terms of a benefit plan’s summary plan description (“SPD”) and the equally clear but contradictory terms of the plan document. For example, the plan document may provide that no employee is eligible to participate in the plan until the one-year anniversary of employment. The SPD, on the other hand, provides that an employee is eligible to participate in the plan upon hiring, provided the employee is at least 18 years of age. Such inconsistencies, although regrettable, arise regularly and plan draftsmen try to address this issue by including language to the effect that in the event of an inconsistency between the SPD and the plan document, the plan document controls.