An issue may arise when the terms of the plan document conflict with the terms of the summary plan description (“SPD”). In Cigna Corp. v. Amara, the Supreme Court recently held that SPD language does not become part of the terms of a plan document. The Court made it clear that “summary documents, important as they are, provide communication with beneficiaries about the plan, but that their statements do not themselves constitute the terms of the plan for purposes of § 502(a)(1)(B).” CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 131 S. Ct. 1866 (2011). In holding, the Supreme Court overruled two Ninth Circuit cases which treated SPD language as if it were an enforceable part of the retirement plan.
The opinion is available at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-804.pdf.