Man loses ERISA suit against Spire Inc. Retirement Plans Committee because of untimely filing of benefit claim

By Charmaine Little | May 17, 2019

ST. LOUIS – A Missouri man was not wrongfully denied disability pension benefits, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri’s Eastern Division has ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Bodenhausen sided with defendant Spire Inc. Retirement Plans Committee in plaintiff Harry DaPron’s Employee Retirement Income Security Act lawsuit against it on May 7.

DaPron filed the complaint alleging wrongful denial of disability benefits and breach of fiduciary duty after Spire denied his claim for disability pension benefits. DaPron specifically alleged his employer knew that his mental condition could impact his judgment and stopped him from applying for benefits until 2016. 

Both sides filed their own motions for summary judgment and the court granted Spire’s and denied DaPron’s.

While DaPron submitted two letters as evidence, Bodenhausen said in the ruling that “these letters may not be considered because the court can consider only the evidence that was before the administrator when the claim was denied.”

Bodenhausen also agreed with the committee’s interpretation and perspective of the benefits plan. 

“There was more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the committee’s decision to deny disability pension benefits,” Bodenhausen wrote. 

Ultimately, because DaPron participated in the plan in question, the committee made the best decision to deny the benefits, said Bodenhausen. The committee interpreted that the plan would “require that claims for disability pension benefits be submitted in connection with the employee separating from employment…,” the ruling states.

Because of this, the committee unanimously denied DaPron’s claim for benefits since DaPron filed his claim more than six years after leaving his job, making it untimely. Since the claim was untimely to begin with, there was no need for the committee to determine if DaPron was disabled in 2010 when he parted ways with his employer.

“The court finds and concludes that the committee acted within the written terms of the plan in denying DaPron’s disability pension benefits, and the committee’s interpretation of the plan was reasonable,” said Bodenhausen.

The judge also said the committee did not breach any fiduciary duty against DaPron when it did not take medical documents showing he was disabled at the end of his employment into consideration.

"The contents of DaPron’s medical records are simply not among the relevant circumstances at issue with respect to the committee’s denial," the ruling states.

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