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Insurance – Life – Labor & Employment – ERISA – Policy Conversion Deadline – Equitable Tolling

Insurance – Life – Labor & Employment – ERISA – Policy Conversion Deadline – Equitable Tolling

Even though plaintiff’s decedent, an ERISA plan participant, was incapacitated by illness during the period when he could have converted his employer-provided life insurance policy to an individual policy, and even though the participant tried to make the conversion 26 days after the conversion period ended, the defendant-plan administrator did not abuse its discretion in refusing to pay life insurance benefits to plaintiff.

We affirm judgment for defendant.

Both in the district court and in this court, plaintiff has maintained that she seeks relief only pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), which provides in relevant part, “A civil action may be brought . . . by a . . . beneficiary . . . to recover benefits due . . . under the terms of [the] plan. . . .” Section 1132(a)(1)(B) does not allow this court to apply the doctrine of equitable tolling to alter the terms of an Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and the plan administrator did not abuse its discretion by enforcing the terms of the plan. A conversion deadline is not akin to a statute of limitations, i.e., a deadline for converting benefits is not triggered by the violation giving rise to the action.

As the district court pointed out, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) does allow a court to grant “other appropriate equitable relief,” but plaintiff did not sue under that provision, never sought leave to amend her complaint to add such a claim, and continues to disclaim reliance on any such a theory before this court.

We note that plaintiff errs in asserting she could not have sought relief under subsection (a)(3). True, a plaintiff who prevails in a claim for benefits under subsection (a)(1)(B) may not also obtain other relief under subsection (a)(3). But Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(3) specifically permits pleading “in the alternative,” so nothing would have prevented plaintiff from suing under both provisions.


Hayes v. Prudential Insurance Co. of America (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-028-23, 11 pp.) (Toby Heytens, J.) No. 21-2406. Appealed from USDC at Greenville, S.C. (Joseph Dawson, J.) Leila Louzri and Nathaniel Bax for appellant; Ian Morrison for appellee. 4th Cir.

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