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Munro-Kienstra v. Carpenters' Health & Welfare Trust Fund of St. Louis

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 17, 2015

Debra Munro-Kienstra, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Carpenters' Health and Welfare Trust Fund of St. Louis, Defendant - Appellee

Submitted March 10, 2015.

Page 800

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis.

For Debra Munro-Kienstra, Plaintiff - Appellant: Matthew Richard Davis, Gallagher & Davis, Saint Louis, MO.

For Carpenters' Health and Welfare Trust Fund of St. Louis, Defendant - Appellee: James E. Robertson, Millar & Schaefer, Saint Louis, MO.

Before MURPHY and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges, and BROOKS,[1] District Judge.

OPINION

Page 801

MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (" ERISA" ), Debra Munro-Kienstra alleged wrongful denial of health care benefits by the Carpenters' Health and Welfare Trust Fund of St. Louis' Employee Welfare Benefit Plan (the " plan" ). See 29 U.S.C. § § 1001-1461. The plan stated that any ERISA action for denial of benefits must be brought within two years of the date of denial. Munro-Kienstra learned that she had been denied coverage in July 2009, and she filed this action over two years later in January 2012. The district court[2] concluded that Munro-Kienstra's claim was time barred and granted summary judgment for Carpenters. Munro-Kienstra appeals, and we affirm.

Munro-Kienstra, a Missouri resident, received treatment for uterine fibroid tumors at the Mayo Clinic in September 2008. She submitted a claim for reimbursement under the plan, but Carpenters concluded that her treatment fell outside the plan's coverage because the treatment was investigative, experimental, and required prior approval. Munro-Kienstra appealed the decision internally, but in July 2009 Carpenters informed Munro-Kienstra that the denial of her claim was final. The plan under which Munro-Kienstra's claim was denied is a self funded multiple employer welfare benefit plan that is " maintained pursuant to collective bargaining agreements between the participating employers and the Carpenters' District Council of Greater St. Louis." The parties agree that the plan is subject to the ERISA statutory framework. See 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1). The plan specified that any civil action for wrongful denial of medical benefits under ERISA § 502(a) must be filed within two years of the final date of denial. See 29 U.S.C. § 1132.

Munro-Kienstra brought this ERISA § 502(a) action alleging wrongful denial of health care benefits in January 2012, almost two and a half years after she learned her claim had been denied. She argued in the district court that the plan's contractual two year statute of limitations was invalid because the plan's rules of construction stated that its terms should be read to comply with Missouri law. Munro-Kienstra asserted that a ten year Missouri

Page 802

statute of limitations governed her claim and that a separate Missouri statute barred contracting parties from shortening that limitations period.

The district court rejected Munro-Kienstra's argument. It applied the plan's contractual two year statute of limitations and concluded that Munro-Kienstra's claim was time barred. The district court relied on Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co.,134 S.Ct. 604, 187 L.Ed.2d 529 (2013), in which the Court stated that when parties to an ERISA benefit plan " have adopted a limitations period by contract . . . there is no need to borrow a state statute of limitations" unless " the period is unreasonably short" or a " controlling statute prevents the limitations provision from taking effect." Id. at 612, 616. The district court identified no controlling statute that prevented the contractual " limitations provision from taking effect" and granted summary judgment for Carpenters. Seeid. at 612. Munro-Kienstra appeals. We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the record and drawing all reasonable ...


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