Mertens v. Hewitt Associates, 508 U.S. 248, 11 (1993)

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Opinion of the Court

We will not read the statute to render the modifier superfluous. See United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U. S. 30, 36 (1992); Moskal v. United States, 498 U. S. 103, 109-110 (1990). Regarding "equitable" relief in 502(a)(3) to mean "all relief available for breach of trust at common law" would also require us either to give the term a different meaning there than it bears elsewhere in ERISA, or to deprive of all meaning the distinction Congress drew between "equitable" and "remedial" relief in 409(a),8 and between "equitable" and "legal" relief in the very same section of ERISA, see 29 U. S. C. 1132(g)(2)(E); in the same subchapter of ERISA, see 1024(a)(5)(C); and in the ERISA subchapter dealing

194 P. 2d 533 (1948). The two decisions upon which the dissent relies, Fleishman v. Krause, Lindsay & Nahstoll, 261 Ore. 505, 495 P. 2d 268 (1972), and Dixon v. Northwestern Nat. Bank of Minneapolis, 297 F. Supp. 485 (Minn. 1969), see post, at 271, held only that the breach-of-trust actions at issue could be brought at law, thus entitling the plaintiffs to a jury trial. While both decisions noted in passing that the plaintiffs sought punitive as well as compensatory damages, neither said that those damages could be obtained, much less that they could be obtained only at law.

The dissent's claim that the Courts of Appeals have adopted its theory that "equitable relief" was used in ERISA to exclude punitive damages, see post, at 272, n. 6, is also unfounded. The only opinion the dissent cites that permits punitive damages when an "equitable relief" limitation does not exist (viz., under 502(a)(2), which permits not only "equitable," but also "remedial," relief) is Kuntz v. Reese, 760 F. 2d 926 (CA9 1985). That opinion (a) was based on the Ninth Circuit precedent we subsequently reversed in Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Russell, 473 U. S. 134 (1985), see Kuntz, supra, at 938; (b) was formally withdrawn after being vacated on other grounds, see 785 F. 2d 1410 (per curiam), cert. denied, 479 U. S. 916 (1986); and (c) has never been relied upon again, even by the Ninth Circuit.

8 We agree with the dissent, see post, at 269, n. 4, that the distinction between "equitable" and "remedial" relief is artless, but do not agree that we are therefore free to consider it meaningless. "Equitable" relief must mean something less than all relief. Congress has, it may be noted, used the same language ("other equitable or remedial relief") elsewhere. See 5 U. S. C. 8477(e)(1)(A).

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