Sherfel v. Newson, — F.3d –. 2014 WL 4812275 (6th Cir. Sept. 30, 2014), concerned an STD plan covering employees in 49 States. The plan allowed its administrator to pay STD benefits only to employees who qualify as disabled under the plan. The court observed that “ERISA then federalizes that limitation, by requiring the

Gross v. Sun Life Assur. Co. of Canada, 763 F.3d 73 (1st Cir. 2014), a divided decision, concerned the question whether a remand by the First Circuit to the administrator qualified for an award of attorneys’ fees. In a prior decision, Gross v. Sun Life Assur. Co. of Canada, 734 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2013), the court had accepted plaintiff’s argument that deferential review was not triggered by plan language requiring that proof of disability be “satisfactory to” the insurer. Gross 2013 also found that the administrative record was inadequate to assess plaintiff’s entitlement to benefits, and remanded to the administrator. Plaintiff then apparently filed a motion with the First Circuit seeking attorneys’ fees for the litigation in the district court and on appeal, leading to Gross 2014.
Continue Reading Remand May Be Sufficient Success on the Merits to Support Attorneys’ Fee Award

In Smith v. Regional Transit Auth., 756 F.3d 340 (5th Cir. 2014), the Fifth Circuit  rejected its prior precedent, and held that the governmental plan exemption (and presumably other, similar exemptions) does not impact subject matter jurisdiction.

The court noted that the “Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed that we must avoid conflating the

In a recent decision involving fiduciary duties in Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), the Supreme Court emphasized an important limit on the pre-eminence of the plan document. Recent Supreme Court decisions, primarily in the welfare benefit plan context, have emphasized the primary importance of the plan document in establishing a fiduciary’s obligations and a participant’s rights.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Emphasizes that ERISA Plans Are Not Always Pre-Eminent

In Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 571 U.S. __ (Dec. 16, 2013) , the Supreme Court held that a contractual limitation provision under which the clock begins to run before administrative remedies are exhausted  is enforceable under ERISA, as long as a reasonable time is left after exhaustion is expected to occur.

Julie Heimeshoff filed a claim with Hartford for benefits under a disability plan established by WalMart. The plan provided that litigation must be commenced within three years after proof of loss was due. The Court noted that, under applicable ERISA regulations, the typical ERISA claim would be fully administered in about a year, perhaps as long as 16 months. Thus, one would ordinarily expect a claimant to have 1-1/2 to 2 years to bring suit after a claim was fully administered.

When Heimeshoff’s claim was fully administered, she had about 1 year left under the limitation provision to sue. But she waited almost three years, making her suit almost 2 years late under the contractual provision. Hartford and WalMart moved to dismiss Heimeshoff’s action as untimely, and the District of Connecticut agreed, applying Second Circuit precedent enforcing an identical limitation provision. Heimeshoff appealed, and the Second Circuit affirmed on the same basis. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to  resolve a split in the circuits regarding the enforceability of a contractual limitation provision that starts to run before administrative remedies are exhausted. (The District Court and the Second Circuit also found that Heimeshoff could not establish a basis for equitable tolling of the limitation period; the Supreme Court declined to grant certiorari on that question).

The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of Heimeshoff’s action.
Continue Reading Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life: Supreme Court Holds that Plan Can Start Limitation Clock Before Benefit Claim Accrues

The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in this case, which involved the question whether a contractual limitations period in an ERISA benefit plan could begin to run before administrative remedies were exhausted.
Continue Reading Heimeshoff v. Hartford – Oral Argument in the Supreme Court

In petitioning for certiorari, Heimeshoff asked the Supreme Court to consider three questions:

1.         When should a statute of limitations accrue for judicial review of an ERISA disability adverse benefit determination?

2.         What notice regarding time limits for judicial review of an adverse benefit determination should an ERISA plan or its fiduciary give the claimant with a disability claim?

3.         When an ERISA plan or its fiduciary fails to give proper notice of the time limits for filing a judicial action to review denial of disability benefits, what is the remedy?

The Supreme Court granted certiorari, but only as to the first issue, as to which there was a conflict among the Circuits.

There are several axioms and rules underlying this case that are not in dispute.
Continue Reading Heimeshoff v. Hartford – Supreme Court Briefing

Hartford moved to dismiss the action because it was filed after the expiration of the policy’s contractual limitation period. The plain language of the Policy gave her until December 8, 2005 to submit proof of loss: she alleged that her disability began on June 6, 2005; the ninety-day Elimination Period would ordinarily end on September 6, 2005, but her Elimination Period lasted two days longer because Wal-Mart made salary continuation payments to her until September 8, 2005; the start of the period for which Hartford would owe payment (if Heimeshoff had proven disability) was September 9, 2005; proof of loss was due ninety days later, or December 8, 2005. The deadline for taking legal action was therefore three years after that, or December 8, 2008.
Continue Reading Heimeshoff v. Hartford – Motion to Dismiss

In Lipker v. AK Steel Corp., 2012 WL 5346325 (6th Cir. Oct. 31, 2012), the plaintiff applied for surviving spouse benefits under the pension benefits plan administered by her husband’s former employer. The administrator approved her claim, but she disputed the amount of the benefit. The discrepancy between her expectation and the actual award hinged on “the interpretation of plan language that both parties argue is unambiguous, yet each party interprets differently.” Though the district court had held in favor of the plaintiff’s interpretation, the Sixth Circuit reversed,  finding that the administrator’s proposed interpretation of the plan language to be truer to its plain meaning when read with reference to the law it expressly refers to.
Continue Reading Social Security Statute Aids Interpretation of Ambiguous Plan Offset Provision