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ALGIE v. RCA GLOBAL COMMUN.

July 22, 1994

THOMAS ALGIE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RCA GLOBAL COMMUNICATION, INC. and MCI COMMUNICATIONS CORPORATION, Defendants.


DOLINGER


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL H. DOLINGER

MICHAEL H. DOLINGER

 UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE:

 Plaintiffs are seeking an award for non-payment of severance benefits from a severance benefits plan established and administered by defendant RCA Global Communications, Inc. Their sole surviving claim arises under section 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. ยง 1132(a)(1)(B). At issue now is whether plaintiffs are entitled to a jury trial on their claim.

 The caselaw on this issue reflects a surprising lack of consensus, with the circuit courts outside the Second Circuit generally holding that a jury trial is not compelled either by the statute or by the Seventh Amendment, *fn1" whereas the Second Circuit has hinted, and numerous district courts within this circuit have held, that a jury trial is mandated if the claim is one for payment of withheld benefits. *fn2"

 Those courts that have denied a jury trial generally rely upon the assumption that a claim for ERISA benefits is to be judged by the law of trusts, which finds its source in equity. Accordingly, those courts view the benefits claim as one sounding in equity and hence triable to the court. In contrast, those courts ruling in favor of jury trials have noted that benefits-due claims are the functional equivalent of a contract claim and that the relief sought is a damage award, both of which are viewed as having their source in law rather than equity. Thus, they conclude, jury trials are available as a matter of statutory construction, or alternatively as a matter of Seventh Amendment jurisprudence.

 For the reasons that follow, I conclude that plaintiffs are entitled to a jury trial in this case.

 ANALYSIS

 The right to a jury may flow from the statute itself or from the Seventh Amendment. Since a statutory analysis may preclude the necessity for addressing the constitutionality of the statute, I first consider whether the statute itself may be read to yield a right to a jury trial.

 As a general matter, in ascertaining whether a statutory claim is triable to a jury, we are to look principally to the procedural and remedial provisions of the statute. See, e.g., Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers, Local NO. 391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558, 559, 108 L. Ed. 2d 519, 110 S. Ct. 1339 (1990); Tull v. United States, 481 U.S. 412, 414, 95 L. Ed. 2d 365, 107 S. Ct. 1831 (1987). In the case of ERISA, the relevant section offers no direct enlightenment on this question, but rather simply provides that

 
(a) . . . A civil action may be brought --
 
(1) by a participant or beneficiary --
 
* * *
 
(B) to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future ...

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