In Bakos v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America, No. 22-11131, 2022 WL 3696648 (11th Cir. Aug. 25, 2022), a dispute over long-term disability benefits, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s order dismissing Plaintiff-Appellant Angela Bakos’ lawsuit since it was time barred by a contractual limitations period in the Unum disability policy. Here, Unum terminated Bakos’s LTD benefits on July 15, 2015. She appealed the denial to Unum, which Unum upheld in writing on June 27, 2016. The denial letter informed her of her right to bring a civil suit under ERISA § 502(a). The letter did not specify any deadlines but did advise her that she could request documents and records relevant to her claim for benefits. The court found that one of the documents she could have requested would have contained the provision alerting Bakos that she had three years following Unum’s denial to file a civil suit in federal court. Bakos did not file suit until April 1, 2021.
The court rejected Bakos’s argument that the three-year period of limitations was equitably tolled due to Unum’s failure to mention the three-year period in its denial letter. The court explained that there is no equitable tolling when plaintiffs have notice sufficient to prompt them to investigate the basis for their claims. Because Unum advised Bakos she could request document relevant to her claim, she could have requested a copy of the policy which included the limitations period. If she exercised “even minimal diligence in discovering the terms of the policy,” she could have filed her lawsuit on time.
The court also rejected Bakos’s claim that the Supreme Court’s decision in Intel v. Sulyma, 140 S. Ct. 768 (2020) supports her argument because she lacked notice from Unum about the three-year limitations period. Sulyma involved the limitations period under ERISA § 1113(2). Limitations periods for §502 claims can be set by contract. Bakos agreed to Unum’s limitation period when she signed up for the plan. The court concluded that the district court correctly determined that Bakos’s claim was time barred and she was not entitled to equitable tolling.
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