Litigating ERISA Top-Hat Plan Denial of Benefits Claims: Procedural and Substantive Challenges

Navigating Statute of Limitations, Administrative Appeals, Standing, Proper Parties, Standard of Review, and Scope of Benefits

*** This program has been cancelled ***

A live 90-minute CLE webinar with interactive Q&A

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 (in 11 days)
1:00pm-2:30pm EDT, 10:00am-11:30am PDT

This CLE webinar will explore substantive and procedural issues commonly faced by litigants in lawsuits concerning the denial of benefits owed under a top-hat plan. The program will focus on key legal issues relating to the statute of limitations, exhaustion of administrative appeals, standing, proper parties, and the standards of review that courts may apply to an administrator’s decision to deny benefits.


While supplemental executive retirement plans (aka top-hat plans) are exempt from ERISA’s participation and vesting requirements, funding provisions, and fiduciary responsibility provisions, they are subject to ERISA’s civil enforcement provisions. Plan participants and beneficiaries can enforce the plan’s terms in federal court under unilateral contract principles developed under ERISA.

Executive benefits denial cases involve a number of procedural and substantive hurdles. First, participants and beneficiaries must exhaust all administrative appeals before filing an action in federal court. Once in federal court, they may encounter issues relating to the statute of limitations, proper parties, standing, the proper standard of review, and the validity of plan amendments.

Listen as our panel of authoritative litigators counsels on best practices for navigating key issues in executive top-hat benefit denial suits.


  1. Determining statute of limitations
  2. Prerequisites to commencing an ERISA action
    1. Exhaustion of administrative appeals
  3. Commencing an ERISA action for top-hat benefits
    1. Standing
    2. Proper parties
    3. Standard of review: de novo vs. arbitrary and capricious
    4. Addressing ERISA preemption issues
  4. Determining scope of benefits under unilateral contract principles
    1. Vested benefits
    2. Plan amendments


The panel will review these and other key issues:

  • Under what circumstances may the statute of limitations for filing actions be subject to equitable tolling?
  • What is the significance of the participant’s vesting in plan benefits and the amendment provisions of the plan?
  • What has been the impact of recent case law on the review of claim administrators’ determinations?


Michael C. Rakower, Partner
Rakower Law, New York

Mr. Rakower's practice focuses on commercial litigation in federal and state courts, and also involves white-collar criminal defense of individuals facing state and federal investigations. He co-authored the article, Seeking Benefits Owed Under an ERISA Top-Hat Plan: A Primer for Litigators.

Melissa Yang
Rakower Law, New York

Ms. Yang represents individuals and corporations in both state and federal courts and has experience litigating in a wide array of areas, including antitrust, complex commercial litigation, employee benefits, insurance and reinsurance defense, and white collar defense, which includes DOJ and SEC investigations. Ms. Yang co-authored with Michael Rakower, Seeking Benefits Owed Under an ERISA Top-Hat Plan: A Primer for Litigators.

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Customer Reviews

The program was very helpful and gave me a good overview.

Lauren Piana

Odin, Feldman & Pittleman

I appreciated that the seminar’s comprehensive coverage was targeted to those not already expert in this area of law.

Patricia Chapman

Gleaves Swearingen

The seminar was understandable, fluid and thorough for the topics covered.

Susan L. Dolin, Esq.

Susan L. Dolin

The speakers possessed great technical knowledge and experience.

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Great overall summary of ERISA issues.

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