Contractual Statute of Limitations Periods in the First Circuit

Here’s a handy-dandy, one shot, easily referenced statement of the law in the First Circuit governing the statute of limitations applicable to LTD claims, and thus, by extension, all denial of benefit claims. It comes from the First Circuit’s decision last week in Santaliz-Rios v. Metropolitan Life Insurance:

Congress has not established a limitations period for ERISA claims brought pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). Island View Residential Treatment Ctr. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mass., Inc., 548 F.3d 24, 27 (1st Cir.2008). Therefore, in adjudicating ERISA claims, federal courts borrow the most closely analogous statute of limitations in the forum state. Id. (citing Edes v. Verizon Commc'n, Inc., 417 F.3d 133, 138 (1st Cir.2005)). In Puerto Rico, the default limitations period applicable to contract claims is fifteen years. P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, § 5294; Caribbean Mushroom Co. v. Gov't Dev. Bank for P.R., 102 F.3d 1307, 1312 (1st Cir.1996) (“[C]ontract claims that are covered by the Commerce Code but are not designated for special prescriptive treatment automatically fall under the Civil Code's fifteen-year catch-all provision.”). This period has been applied to ERISA claims where no alternative limitations period was agreed upon by the parties. See Nazario Martinez v. Johnson & Johnson Baby Prods. ., Inc., 184 F.Supp.2d 157, 159–62 (D.P.R.2002).

However, where the contract at issue itself provides a shorter limitations period, that period will govern as long as it is reasonable. See Island View, 548 F.3d at 27 (applying a contractually agreed-upon limitations period to ERISA claim); Rios–Coriano v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 642 F.Supp.2d 80, 83 (D.P.R.2009) (“Choosing which state statute to borrow is unnecessary, however, where the parties have contractually agreed upon a limitations period, provided the limitations period is reasonable.”)

The plaintiff was barred by the contractual limitations period, as the court gave little weight to the plaintiff’s attempts to argue around the contractual limitations period, which were basically limited to tolling arguments made, apparently, without significant factual support. Attacks on statute of limitations bars need to be well-grounded in factual support to have any traction in this circuit, in my view, and that clearly didn’t occur in this instance. I can picture fact patterns involving contractual limitations periods, however, that could more readily sustain an assault on their application.