by Michael Fox
A challenge by employees of third parties who worked for Mobil prior to its merger with Exxon, sued for benefits under cerain Mobil benefit plans. Some of the workers had worked in their contractor capacity for as long as 10 years. Often they worked right alongside Mobil workers, with their employer of record being the only difference. However, since the plans themselves provided that the employees were not covered, the Court held that the administrator's determination to that effect was not invalid, even applying a sliding scale because of the potential conflict of interest of the administrator. MacLachlan v. ExxonMobile (5th Cir. 11/20/03) [pdf]. Sensibly enough, the Court rejected the plaintiff's argument that "emerging judicial doctrine" supported their position, finding instead that "Whether these cases are the vanguard of an emerging judicial doctrine is a matter for the legal academy; they do not help us decide the appeal now before us: whether, on the facts of this case, the administrator abused his discretion." And that answer, which must have made the folks at Irving headquarters smile with relief, is no.