ERISA-Third Circuit Rules That Application For Pension Benefits Is Untimely, So Suit For Benefits May Not Be Brought

In Karp v. Trucking Employees Of North Jersey Welfare Fund, Inc., No. 10-2777 (Third Cir. 2011), the Court faced the question of whether the plaintiff’s law suit under ERISA, pertaining to the denial of his application for pension benefits, is time barred.

The plaintiff is a participant in the Trucking Employees of North Jersey Welfare Fund, Inc., which is a pension fund associated with Local 560 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (the “Fund”). The Fund provides that a participant must have at least 15 years of pension credits to qualify for a pension. The plaintiff filed an application for pension benefits from the Fund. However, on February 24, 1999, his application was denied in a letter from the Fund, because he had only 10 years of pension credits. More than eight years later, on July 30, 2007, the plaintiff sought reconsideration of the denial of his pension application. Reconsideration was denied on March 12, 2008.

The plaintiff filed this suit, on February 19, 2009, under Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA (generally, permitting a participant to bring a suit for benefits). By the time the suit was filed, the plaintiff had only 13 and 1/2 years of pension credits. However, the plaintiff asserted that, since he had over 10 years of pension credits, he was entitled to a portion of a pension from the Fund under applicable case law. The District Court held that the plaintiff’s suit was untimely. The plaintiff appealed. The Third Circuit Court agreed with the District Court and affirmed its holding.

The Third Circuit Court said that ERISA does not set any limitations period for non-fiduciary claims-as are the claims here- brought pursuant to its civil enforcement provision in Section 502(a)(1)(B). For such claims, the courts apply the statute of limitations for the state claim most analogous to the ERISA claim. In this case, the analogous state law statute of limitations is New Jersey’s six-year limitations period that governs contract actions. The Third Circuit Court noted that a non-fiduciary duty cause of action under ERISA accrues -that is the statute of limitations starts to run- when a claim for benefits has been denied, e.g., when the claim has been repudiated. Here, the statute of limitations began to run on February 24, 1999, the date of the initial denial letter, which repudiated the plaintiff’s claim for pension benefits. This suit, filed on February 19, 2009, which is more than 6 years after the date of the February 24, 1999 letter, was filed too late.