By Julie Kim, Sedgwick New York
As we reported back in December 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a reasonable limitation of actions provision in an employee welfare benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) is enforceable even if the limitations period starts to run before the claim accrues. Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 134 S. Ct. 604 (2013). Since Heimeshoff was decided, district courts throughout the county have dismissed claims for plan benefits under ERISA § 502(a) as time-barred based on such limitation of actions provisions. These decisions include:
- Freeman v. Am. Airlines, Inc. Long Term Disability Plan, No. CV13-05161-RSWL-AJWx, 2014 WL 690207 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2014) (dismissing plaintiff’s complaint after finding that a plan provision, requiring participants to commence actions for benefits “within two years of the date after the adverse benefit determination is made on final appeal,” was neither unreasonably short nor precluded from taking effect by any controlling statute);
- Tuminello v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., No. 13 Civ. 938 (KBF), 2014 WL 572367 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 14, 2014) (granting defendant summary judgment where plaintiff failed to commence action for plan benefits within the nine months permitted by the plan’s limitation of actions provision, which the court concluded was not “not an unreasonably short period of time within which to file suit”);
- Kienstra v. Carpenters’ Health & Welfare Trust Fund of St. Louis, No. 4:12CV53 HEA, 2014 WL 562557 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 13, 2014) (concluding that a plan’s two-year limit to bring lawsuits controlled over Missouri’s ten-year statute of limitations);
- Wilson v. Standard Ins. Co., No. 4:11-CV-02703-MHH, 2014 WL 358722 (N.D. Ala. Jan. 31, 2014) (declining to apply Alabama’s six-year statute of limitation for contract actions and dismissing plaintiff’s ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) claim based on a three-year contractual limitations period that left plaintiff 18 months to bring suit after her claim accrued);
- Simmers v. Hartford Life & Acc. Ins. Co., No. 11-C-1009, 2014 WL 107002 (E.D. Wis. Jan. 9, 2014) (refusing to apply Wisconsin’s six-year statute of limitations for breach of contract claims in an ERISA action, and noting that no circumstances were present which would require application of an alternative limitations period, such as the limitations period ending before the claim accrued or the claimant being prevented from timely filing suit due to a protracted appeals process); and
- Barreiro v. NJ BAC Health Fund, No. 13-1501 (RBK/AMD), 2013 WL 6843478 (D.N.J. Dec. 27, 2013) (enforcing a limitations period requiring plan participants to bring action within three years after the end of the year in which medical services were received).
These decisions confirm the benefit conferred on plan administrators by Heimeshoff – namely, resolving a split among the circuit courts and ensuring greater consistency and predictability in the enforcement of ERISA plan limitation of actions provisions. We expect future decisions will limit claims for benefits under ERISA to the time periods specified in benefits plans.