United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
META F. CRUMB PLAINTIFF
PLAN # 501 GROUP LONG TERM DISABILITY PLAN FOR EMPLOYEES OF WAL-MART STORES, INC.; WAL-MART STORES, INC., PLAN ADMINISTRATOR; and HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY, POLICY ADMINISTRATOR DEFENDANTS
O. Hickey United States District Judge
the Court is the Report and Recommendation filed June 15,
2017, by the Honorable Mark E. Ford, United States Magistrate
Judge for the Western District of Arkansas. ECF No. 28.
Plaintiff has responded with timely objections. ECF No. 29.
Hartford has filed a response to the objections. ECF No. 30.
The Court finds the matter ripe for consideration.
action arises under the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq., as amended
(“ERISA”). Plaintiff is an employee of Wal-Mart
who is a participant and beneficiary of Wal-Mart's group
long-term disability plan. Plaintiff alleges that Wal-Mart is
the Plan Administrator, and that the plan is associated with
a policy of insurance issued by Hartford, identified as Group
Insurance Policy Number GLT205215, with Hartford acting as
the Policy Administrator. She alleges that she began
receiving benefits under the plan on November 28, 2012, and
that her benefits were terminated effective November 28,
2013, pursuant to an “other occupation”
provision. She appealed the decision to terminate her
benefits, and her administrative appeal was denied on May 19,
2014. Plaintiff filed her complaint in the present action on
September 19, 2016, alleging that she is entitled to nine
months of benefits at a rate of $785.98 per month, for a
total of $7, 7073.62 as well as costs, attorneys fees,
statutory penalties, and interest.
moved for dismissal on the basis that Plaintiff's
complaint was not timely filed. Specifically Hartford
asserted that the contractual language of the policy at issue
requires suit to be filed within three years from the date
proof of loss was required to be given, which for Plaintiff
would have been by February 27, 2016. Because Plaintiff's
complaint was filed on September 19, 2016, Hartford claimed
it was time-barred.
addition to joining in Hartford's limitations argument,
the two Wal-Mart Defendants assert that they are not the
proper parties to this action. They argue that the plan is
not a freestanding entity capable of being sued and that
Wal-Mart is not a proper defendant because it has no control
over the benefits determinations.
magistrate judge recommended that the Motion to Dismiss (ECF
No. 10) filed by Separate Defendant Hartford Life and
Accident Insurance Company (“Hartford”) be
granted because Plaintiff's compliant is untimely. Judge
Ford further recommends that the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No.
13) filed by Separate Defendant Plan # 501 Group Long Term
Disability Plan for Employees of Wal-Mart Stores and Separate
Defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”), be
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court will conduct a
de novo review of all issues related to
Plaintiff's specific objections. Plaintiff's
objections, which consist of six sentences, summarize the
arguments she made in her brief supporting her response to
Hartford's Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 16. Plaintiff
essentially asks the Court to distinguish controlling
precedent and carve out an exception to the contractual
limitation period provided by the policy at issue. Plaintiff
cites no authority for her argument.
policy at issue requires participants to bring suit within
three (3) years after the proof of loss is due. The proof of
loss is required within ninety (90) days after the start of
the period of disability for which payment is sought. The
plain language of the policy fixes the deadline for filing a
legal action as being related to the date proof of loss is
required. For Plaintiff, the deadline was February 27, 2016.
Supreme Court has held that “[a]bsent a controlling
statute to the contrary, a participant in a plan may agree by
contract to a particular limitations period, even one that
starts to run before the cause of action accrues, so long as
the period is reasonable.” 134 S.Ct. 604, 610 (2013).
In Heimeshoff, under the contractual limitation
period of the policy, the plaintiff was left with
approximately one year in which to file suit, and the Supreme
Court held that this was a “reasonable” period of
time within which to file suit.
Heimeshoff case is controlling precedent and is not
distinguishable from the present case. The contractual
limitations period in the present case began to run before
the cause of action accrued; however, Plaintiff still had
twenty-one (21) months to file suit after the denial of her
administrative appeal. Plaintiff does not argue that the
twenty-one month time period in which to file suit was
unreasonably short. Because Plaintiff filed her complaint
over six months after the expiration of the contractual
limitations period, the complaint is untimely and subject to
reasons stated above, the Court overrules Plaintiff's
objections and adopts in full the Report and Recommendation
of the magistrate judge. ECF No. 28. Accordingly,
Hartford's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 10) is GRANTED, and
the Motion to Dismiss filed by the Wal-Mart Defendants ...