Friday, May 29, 2015
Ninth Circuit Declares:
Appeals Period Ending on Saturday Is Extended to Monday
Applies Rule to an Internal Appeal of an Insurer’s Decision Denying Benefits; Dissent Claims Majority’s Decision Interferes With a Private Contract
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Where a deadline for doing something falls on a Saturday, it’s timely if done the next work day, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said yesterday in a majority opinion.
Judge Richard Paez wrote for himself and Judge Harry Pregerson in saying that an insured’s internal appeal of the denial of benefits was timely where a 180-day appeal period—as spelled out in his plan, and in the letter denying continued benefits—ended on a Saturday and the appeal was mailed the following Monday. Judge N. Randy Smith dissented.
“There is nothing novel about the principle we adopt here that when a deadline falls on a weekend, it extends to the following business day. The Supreme Court recognized this general understanding in 1890. Street v. United States, 133 U.S. 299,306 (1890) (‘…a power that may be exercised up to and including a given day of the month may generally, when that day happens to be Sunday, be exercised on the succeeding day’). Further, the Fifth Circuit has stated that this ‘rubric has universal acceptance.’ ”
He noted that the appellant, Andre LeGras, stood to lose long-term disability benefits “because of a two-day difference in the computation of the time period to pursue an administrative appeal.” Paez remarked that “the stricter time-computation method may be convenient” for purposes of the insurer, AETNA, but it would be contrary to purposes of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act “to adopt a method that is decidedly protective of plan administrators, not plan participants.”
He enumerated various statutes and rules employing the time computation method the majority was adopting.
“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….Therefore, we hold that, where the deadline for an internal administrative appeal under an ERISA-governed insurance contract falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the period continues to run until the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.”
“[LeGras] lost his opportunity to appeal as a result of his own conduct; he sent his appeal to AETNA two days after the appeal period expired. Even LeGras agrees that he sent his appeal two days late. To excuse LeGras’s untimeliness, the majority tarns a simple case of contract interpretation into an opportunity to (without precedent) expand federal common law surrounding the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (‘ERISA’) to rewrite private contracts. I cannot go along with them in ‘bailing LeGras out.’ ”
The jurist went on to say:
“LeGras knew that the 180-day period ended on October 15, 2011; our only question: whether he should be allowed to extend that time by two days solely because the deadline for the 180-day appeal period happened to be on a Saturday.
“In other words, LeGras messed up: he failed to abide by his contract and now seeks an excuse to set aside his failure. LeGras has never offered any reason to explain why he failed to timely appeal. He could have mailed that appeal on any one of 180 days after [denial on] April 18, 2011, including October 15, 2011. He offers no explanation why he did not. Post offices around the nation (even in Pocatello, Idaho) are open on Saturdays. LeGras offers no evidence to the contrary and no explanation why he did not send his appeal on that Saturday. All LeGras had to do (in order to preserve his rights) was mail the appeal within a six-month window. Instead, he flatly argues that he does not need to comply with his contract.”
The decision reverses a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Manuel L. Real of the Central District of California dismissing LeGras’s action challenging the discontinuance of his benefits.
The case is LeGras v. Aetna Life Insurance Company, No. 12-56541.
Peter S. Sessions and Glenn R. Kantor of the Northridge firm of Kantor & Kantor LLP represented LeGras. David P. Knox of Memphis argued for Federal Express Corporation, LeGras’s employer.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company