Mertens v. Hewitt Associates, 508 U.S. 248, 8 (1993)

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Cite as: 508 U. S. 248 (1993)

Opinion of the Court

decide this case on the narrow battlefield the parties have chosen, and reserve decision of that antecedent question.5

Petitioners maintain that the object of their suit is "appropriate equitable relief" under 502(a)(3) (emphasis added). They do not, however, seek a remedy traditionally viewed as "equitable," such as injunction or restitution. (The Court of Appeals held that restitution was unavailable, see 948 F. 2d, at 612, and petitioners have not challenged that.) Although they often dance around the word, what petitioners in fact seek is nothing other than compensatory damages—monetary relief for all losses their plan sustained as a result of the alleged breach of fiduciary duties. Money damages are, of course, the classic form of legal relief. Curtis v. Loether, 415 U. S. 189, 196 (1974); Teamsters v. Terry, 494 U. S. 558, 570-571 (1990); D. Dobbs, Remedies 1.1, p. 3 (1973). And though we have never interpreted the precise phrase "other appropriate equitable relief," we have construed the similar language of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (before its 1991 amendments)—"any other equitable relief as the court deems appropriate," 42 U. S. C. 2000e-5(g)—to preclude "awards for compensatory or punitive damages." United States v. Burke, 504 U. S. 229, 238 (1992).

Petitioners assert, however, that this reading of "equitable relief" fails to acknowledge ERISA's roots in the common law of trusts, see Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U. S. 101, 110-111 (1989). "[A]lthough a beneficiary's action to recover losses resulting from a breach of duty superficially

5 The dissent expresses its certitude that "the statute clearly does not bar such a suit." Post, at 265, n. 1. That, of course, is not the issue. The issue is whether the statute affirmatively authorizes such a suit. To meet that requirement, it is not enough to observe that "trust beneficiaries clearly had such a remedy [against nonfiduciaries who actively assist in the fiduciary's breach] at common law." Ibid. They had such a remedy because nonfiduciaries had a duty to the beneficiaries not to assist in the fiduciary's breach. A similar duty is set forth in ERISA; but as we have noted, only some common-law "nonfiduciaries" are made subject to it, namely, those who fall within ERISA's artificial definition of "fiduciary."

255

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