Monday, March 21, 2016

1st Circuit: LTD Denial Letters Must State Time Period to File Suit

Last week, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that a plan administrator must include the time period for filing a lawsuit in its denial of benefits letter.  In Santana-Díaz v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 4670 (1st Cir. P.R. Mar. 14, 2016, a disability claimant failed to commence a legal action within the three year limitation period set forth in the long term disability policy.  The final termination of benefits letter sent to the claimant made him aware that he had the right to bring legal action but did not specify the time period to file the lawsuit.  The Court of Appeals held that Defendant MetLife's failure to state the specific time period in the letter violated the requirements of ERISA regulations.  (29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1(g)(1)(iv)).
Furthermore, the Court held that due to MetLife's failure the comply with ERISA regulations, the three year limitation period was inapplicable to Mr. Santana-Diaz's claim.  The Court of Appeals was not persuaded by MetLife's argument that the plaintiff had received notice of the three year limitation period by receiving a copy of the disability policy.  The First Circuit's decision is consistent with opinions from the Third and Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  See Mirza v. Insurance Administrator of America, Inc., 800 F.3d 129 (3d Cir. 2015) and  Moyer v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 762 F.3d 503 (6th Cir. 2014).
Interestingly, in the District of Connecticut, Judge Janet Bond Arterton appears to have issued a decision which is contrary to Santana-Diaz, Mirza and Moyer.  See Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life& Accident Ins. Co., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6882, 2012 WL 171325 (D. Conn.Jan. 16, 2012).  (Note that Connecticut is within the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.)  Judge Arterton held that even though the Hartford failed to state in the denial letter that there was a three year limitation for filing a lawsuit, the limitation period applied because it was stated in the summary plan description documents.