ERISA-Sixth Circuit Holds That A Letter From The Plan Administrator Denying A Benefit Must Include Information On The Time Frame For Filing Suit To Challenge The Denial

In Moyer v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, No. 13-1396 (6th Cir. 2014), Joseph Moyer (“Moyer”), a participant in a plan governed by ERISA, appeals the district court’s dismissal for untimeliness of his action against the plan’s claim administrator, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”), seeking recovery of unpaid plan benefits.

In this case, as an employee of Solvay America, Inc., Moyer participated in Solvay’s ERISA-governed Long Term Disability Plan (the “Plan”). When Moyer applied for disability benefits in 2005, MetLife initially approved his claim, but reversed its decision in 2007 after determining that Moyer retained the physical capacity to perform work other than his former job. Moyer filed an administrative appeal, and MetLife affirmed the revocation of benefits on June 20, 2008. Moyer’s adverse benefit determination letter included notice of the right to judicial review but failed to include notice that a three-year contractual time limit applied to judicial review. The Plan’s summary plan description (the “SPD”) failed to provide notice of either Moyer’s right to judicial review or the applicable time limit for initiating judicial review.

On February 20, 2012, Moyer sued MetLife, seeking recovery of unpaid plan benefits under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). MetLife moved to dismiss, arguing that the Plan’s three-year limitations period barred Moyer’s claim. The district court agreed, noting that the plan documents–which were not sent to plan participants unless requested–stated in the Claims Procedure section of the plan that there was a three-year limitations period for filing suit. It concluded that MetLife provided Moyer with constructive notice of the contractual time limit for judicial review. Moyer now appeals, requesting equitable tolling.

In analyzing the case, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) said that courts uphold contractual limitations periods embodied in ERISA plans as long as the period qualifies as “reasonable.” However,the three year time limit, found in the Plan document, for seeking judicial review was not provided to Moyer in the letter revoking his benefits or in the SPD. The Court concluded that, under ERISA’s claim procedure (29 U.S.C. § 1133) and the underlying DOL regulations, this time limit should have been included in this letter. The failure to include the time limit violates ERISA, and Moyer is entitled to a judicial review of the benefit denial. Having so concluded, the Court did not need to reach the issue of whether the time limit should have been included in the SPD. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s holding, and remanded the case back to the district court to consider Moyer’s judicial appeal of his adverse benefit determinatio

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