When does a widow's claim under ERISA accrue?
In Redmon v. Sud-Chemie Inc. Retirment Plan for Union Employees, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was required to decide whether Mrs. Redmon waited too long to protest the plan's decision that she was not entitled to receive survivor's benefits. The widow's husband retired from Sud-Chemie in 1998. At that time, the Redmons allegedly executed a "waiver" that resulted in payment of his retirement benefits in the form of a life annuity that excluded payment of benefits to his widow. He could have elected a smaller payment and continuing partial benefits to his widow in the event of his death. Unfortunately, he died in 1999, resulting in a significant underwriting windfall for the ERISA plan and hardship for the widow.In 2006, the widow requested documents from the plan and was provided with some of the documents she had requested. She then filed a claim for benefits against the plan, but her claim was administratively denied in December of 2006. She filed suit against the plan the following month, alleging that the 'waiver" executed by her husband was invalid because the plan had not complied with ERISA law by fully explaining the effect of the waiver to her husband and her. The parties were in basic agreement about the facts, but the plan disputed the widow's claim that the waiver was uninformed and therefore illegal. The plan also claimed that the widow had waited too long to contest the issue of the validity of the waiver.
The federal ERISA regulations do not include a statute of limitations, and the courts have held that therefore, they should apply the "most analogous state law statute of limitations". In past cases, the courts have considered the state law governing contracts to be the most analogous, but have also applied a three-year statute if it is incorporated into the plan at issue. In some circuits, the courts have also applied a "more closely analogous statute" if it exists. The court in Redmon found this reasoning to be the most persuasive, and held that where there is a separate statute of limitations for challenging the receipt of statutorily-mandated benefits, that statute should be applied. By this thinking, the Court held that the widow filed suit too late, because Kentucky requires a beneficiary to challenge the receipt of statutory benefits within five years of the date of alleged entitlement accrual.