Don’t Count Weekends in ERISA Appeals, 9th Says

     PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – Weekends should not be counted in the 180-day appeal period for the denial of long-term disability benefits, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.
     Andre LeGras, who worked as a ramp transport driver for FedEx for 23 years, injured his back on the job in 2008 and became a beneficiary of the company’s long-term disability benefits.
     In 2011, AETNA Life Insurance – who administrates FedEx’s long-term disability plan – canceled his benefits because he did not show that his disability qualified as a “total disability.”
     The timeframe for LeGras to appeal the termination ended on a Saturday, and he mailed his appeal the following Monday. AETNA denied the appeal as untimely.
     In the 9th Circuit panel’s 22-page opinion, Circuit Judge Richard Paez said that AETNA should have accepted the appeal based on “the widespread understanding that a deadline falling on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday extends to the next business day,” especially since the Employee Retirement Income Security Act does not specify a method of computing time for appeals.
     “There is nothing novel about the principle we adopt here,” he wrote.
     “Incorporating this time-computation method into ERISA’s federal common law protects the interests of insureds, thereby effectuating the policy goals of ERISA. Further, the concept is generally accepted and vital.”
     Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith dissented, saying that the appeal deadline was clearly stated and that LeGras “lost his opportunity to appeal as a result of his own conduct.”
     “Even LeGras agrees that he sent his appeal two days late,” he wrote.
     “To excuse LeGras’s untimeliness, the majority turns a simple case of contract interpretation into an opportunity to (without precedent) expand federal common law. I cannot go along with them in ‘bailing LeGras out.'” [Parentheses in opinion.]
     Smith added that “a person of average intelligence and experience would understand 180 days to mean precisely what LeGras understood it to mean here.”
     “In other words, LeGras messed up; he failed to abide by his contract and now seeks an excuse to set aside his failure,” he wrote. “The majority unnecessarily intrudes upon the ability of the parties to enforce the terms of their negotiated private contract.”
     Neither side could be reached for comment on Thursday.

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