US High Court Turns Away Two ERISA Assignment Matters

December 14, 2004 ( - The US Supreme Court has refused to consider two cases involving assignment of benefit issues under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

>According to, in one case, the US 1 st Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that a court does not violate ERISA’s anti-assignment rule by ordering a plan participant to place all his income in a single bank account and not withdraw more than a certain amount in any month to satisfy a judgment.

>The appeals court reasoned that ERISA forbids assignments only as to benefits still in the plan administrator’s control. Once benefits are distributed, however, ERISA no longer applies, according to the case, Hoult v. Hoult, 373 F.3d 47, cert. denied No. 04-424.

>The other case involved a physician group’s suit for services provided to a plan participant’s dependent, seeking assignment of the dependent’s benefits. The US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that although ERISA is silent on the issue of assignment of health benefits, plans are free to bargain on the issue.

>In this case, the court found that the plan clearly provided that a participant or beneficiary cannot assign benefits and that this provision was valid and enforceable. So the providers cannot sue for payment, according to Physicians Multispecialty Group v. Health Care Plan of Horton Homes, Inc., 371 F.3d 1291, cert. denied, No. 04-432.