Nebraska Law Review
The Supreme Court designed the LMRA rule, adopted in 1966, based on legislative history suggesting that the LMRA lacked a need for uniformity in litigating employee benefit plan matters. Congress changed this conclusion when it adopted ERISA in 1974. Thus, Congress preempted state law insofar as it relates to employee benefit plans. The Supreme Court has specifically stated that this need for uniformity extends to ERISA causes of action and awards under them. The Supreme Court spelled out a three-step process to determine whether to use a uniform federal statute of limitations: (1) whether the federal cause of action demands a uniform statute of limitations; (2) if so, whether the uniform limitations period should come from federal law; and (3) if so, whether the selected federal statute of limitations constitutes a significantly closer fit to the federal cause of action.
Applying this three-step process to ERISA causes of action results in using the ERISA statute of limitations, not only for the informational penalty lawsuit, the benefits due lawsuit, and the equitable remedy to enforce plan provisions, but also for the employer retaliatory discrimination lawsuit and the delinquent employer contribution lawsuit. The time has come to end the fumbling of the limitations issue and to conform ERISA litigation practices to Justice Byron “Whizzer” White’s directive and congressional desires. Following the law, as laid out by the Supreme Court, will eliminate the problem.
George Lee Flint, Jr., ERISA: Fumbling the Limitations Period, 84 Neb. L. Rev. 313 (2005).