Ninth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Action Filed Twenty Days After Expiration of ERISA Plan's One-Year Contractual Limitations Period


In Scharff v. Raytheon Company Short Term Disability Plan, et al., ___ F.3d. ___, 2009 WL 2871229 (9th Cir. September 9, 2009), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court?s dismissal of a lawsuit filed a mere twenty days after expiration of the ERISA plan provision requiring an action to be filed within one year following the denial of the appeal from an initial disability-claim denial, holding that the summary plan description's placement and display of a that contractual limitations period met statutory and regulatory requirements. The court specifically rejected Donna Scharff's arguments that the doctrine of reasonable expectations should be adopted in analyzing Raytheon?s SPD and that the placement and display violated her reasonable expectations: “We hold that even if the doctrine of "reasonable expectations" applied here, the one-year statute of limitations met its requirements and also met the statutory and regulatory standards for disclosure.” The court also declined Scharff?s call for the importation into federal common law a California regulation requiring insurers to expressly inform claimants of statutes of limitations that may bar their claims. Noting that other circuits had expressly rejected a rule requiring plan administrators to inform participants of provisions already contained in the SPD, the court explained that Scharff's position “would place the Ninth Circuit out of line with current federal common law and would inject a lack of uniformity into ERISA law.” In that latter regard, a lack of uniformity among the circuits would be detrimental, particularly to large multi-state employers who issue the same welfare benefit plan to cover all employees, regardless of their location.

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