The US Supreme Court recently agreed to hear Sulyma v. Intel Corp. Investment Policy Committee, a case in which the Ninth Circuit ruled that ERISA’s three-year statute of limitations requires a plaintiff to actually read materials in order to start the running of ERISA’s three-year statute of limitations. ERISA § 413(2) bars actions more than three years after “the earliest date on which the plaintiff had actual knowledge of the breach or violation,” and the Ninth Circuit held that a plaintiff who receives all the relevant information relating to her claim, but does not read it or does not recall reading it, does not have “actual knowledge” to start the limitations period. The Sixth Circuit, however, has held differently; in Brown v. Owens Corning Investment Review Committee, 622 F.3d 564, 571 (6th Cir. 2010), it held that the failure to read documents will not shield a plaintiff from having actual knowledge of the documents’ contents. Several district courts have held similarly, determining that the three-year limitations period begins when the plaintiff receives the relevant information, whether she reads it or not.
The Supreme Court decision likely will establish a uniform interpretation of ERISA’s “actual knowledge” standard for statute-of-limitations purposes. The Ninth Circuit’s decision, correct or not, makes it difficult for defendants to prove a three-year, statute-of-limitations defense, because a plaintiff who does not read contents, or cannot recall reading materials, does not have actual knowledge of the documents’ contents. The three-year limitations period would seem to have little meaning if a plaintiff simply can testify that she did not read or did not recall reading relevant materials.
The Supreme Court’s order stated only that the petitions for writs of certiorari are granted. Intel’s opening brief is due 45 days from the grant of certiorari.