Pension Participants Sued for Benefits Too Late

September 4, 2013 ( – A federal appellate court ruled pension participants filed their lawsuit for benefits past the statute of limitations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

In the case of Laskin, et al v. Siegel, et al, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted summary judgment to the defendants, affirming a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

In 1991, Jefco Laboratories terminated its profit-sharing retirement plan. In 2009, plaintiffs Susan Laskin and Susan Isaacson filed suit, alleging that their rights were violated when the plan was terminated without distributing benefits to them. The suit was initiated after Laskin inquired about her retirement account balance in 2008, only to be told that the plan had been dissolved and its funds disbursed. When Laskin asked why she did not receive a payout, she was told that the plan administrators had been unable to locate her.

In affirming the district court’s ruling, the appellate court noted that “in order to extend the statute of limitations period, [the plaintiffs] must first show that fraud or concealment actually occurred.” While the plaintiffs claimed concealment when they were told that the eligibility age for the pension fund had changed from 55 to 65 years old, the appellate court saw no concealment, as the record reflected that the age change was made through a plan amendment and the plan’s trustee had notified Laskin of this change by letter. The court also pointed to the fact that Laskin offered no evidence that the trustee had concealed plan information from her nor did she offer any evidence of fraud. The appellate court found that since Laskin “failed to meet her burden to show fraud or concealment occurred in this case,” the statute of limitations from the district court ruling was correct.

While the appellate court agreed with the district in denying the plaintiffs claim, they did not agree that the defendants were entitled to the “modest presumption” that district court mentioned in its ruling. The appellate court said that the plaintiffs’ claims were “justified but untimely” and so if would be unfair to impose the defendants’ attorney’s fees and costs on the plaintiffs.

The full text of the appellate court’s ruling can be found here.