Summer I 2012
5297 ERISA - SMITH,S- 18880
Judge Stephen Smith (ADJUNCT)
Time: 6:00p-8:55p Th Location: 240 BLB
Course Outline: Employee Benefits Law may be the most important course you have never heard of. It covers the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), which is the basic federal law governing employer-provided benefit plans, such as pensions and health care insurance. (The Affordable Care Act currently under Supreme court review is one of many significant amendments to ERISA over the years.) Contrary to what you may have heard, ERISA is not just (or even primarily) a tax law. Its reach extends into many other major practice areas: health law, employment, labor, insurance, family/divorce, wills, trusts and estates, corporate mergers & acquisitions, securities, fiduciary, bankruptcy, and more.
This two-hour course will provide a basic overview of ERISA’s regulatory scheme. It will explain the difference between traditional pensions and defined contribution plans, such as the 401(k), which are far more prevalent today. The course will contrast the Act’s extensive regulation of retirement plans (such as funding, vesting, and accrual rules) with the much lighter regulation given to welfare benefit plans such as health insurance. Special attention will be paid to spousal rights arising out of ERISA covered benefit plans, and their impact on divorce settlements. Finally, the course will examine the benefit claims process, the limited judicial remedies available for ERISA violations, and the extremely broad preemption clause that not only sweeps away a multitude of state laws, but also provides ERISA defendants with a ticket for removing state law claims to federal court.
The goal of the course is to convey a practical understanding of how ERISA impacts a wide variety of practice areas. Such an understanding is likely to prove attractive to a wide variety of prospective employers: big law firms, family law firms, insurance companies, hospitals, banks, trust companies, benefit plan administrators, corporate in-house counsel, federal agencies, etc. Very few courses in law school can claim to enhance potential job prospects in this way.
Course Syllabus: Syllabus (pdf)
First Day Assignments: June 7
Topics: Introduction/ background / structure of ERISA
Readings: Pension and Employee Benefit Law (5th ed.) by Langbein et al. (“Text”)
pages 1-17, 95-104
Topic: Pension plan types: defined benefit vs. defined contribution
Readings: Text, pp.44-64
Final Exam Schedule: 08/08 6-8pm 209 BLB
This course will have:
Satisfies Skills Course Requirement: No
Satisfies Senior Upper Level Writing Requirement: No
Experiential Course Type: