Applying Heimeshoff to Plans' Contractual Limitations
In Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 134 S. Ct. 604 (2013), the Supreme Court held that an ERISA plan’s contractual limitations period can be enforced, so long as the claimant has a reasonable time after exhausting his or her administrative remedies to file suit. Under Heimeshoff, a plan’s language can shorten the limitations period and can make the shorter limitations period start to run before the claim’s administrative denial is final, if the participant still has a reasonable period to file suit after the claim is denied. Applying Heimeshoff’s holding often may depend on what court finds is a “reasonable” period to file suit.
To apply the Heimeshoff holding, the reasonableness analysis includes four possible questions: (1) Is the total time for a participant to file suit reasonable? (2) Is the time after the final claim denial reasonable for a typical participant to file suit? (3) Is the information about the limitations provision given to the participant enough to make enforcing it against him or her reasonable? And (4) is the time otherwise reasonable, under the circumstances, for the particular participant to file suit? Answering the first and second questions should be simple; one only needs a rule for how many days are sufficient for a typical plaintiff to file suit. The third question should be simple, yet is the subject of a circuit split. The fourth question cannot be answered with a simple rule, because what might be equitable would depend on the particular participant and his or her circumstances, and thus could vary case by case.