United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
WESSLEY J. GUNCHICK, Plaintiff,
BANK OF AMERICA, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, United States District Judge
Gunchick has sued Bank of America, which administers his
pension plan under section 502(a) of the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), § 502(a), 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(a)(1)(B), to "recover benefits due to him
under the terms of his plan . . . ." Bank of America has
moved for summary judgment on both procedural and substantive
Bank, subsequently acquired by Bank of America, employed
Gunchick as a loan officer from August 1994 to October 2003.
Gunchick participated in the bank's pension plan. To
calculate the value of Gunchick's pension upon
retirement, the pension administrator considered his
compensation level and length of service. Gunchick alleges
that the pension administrator incorrectly calculated these
values. Gunchick filed a claim with the administrator and,
after that claim was denied, appealed the determination of
his compensation level. After the pension administrator
denied the appeal, Gunchick sued in this Court under ERISA.
Bank of America argues it is entitled to summary judgment,
because Gunchick (1) filed his claim after the statute of
limitations passed, (2) failed to exhaust internal plan
remedies before filing, and (3) fails on the merits of his
claim. The Court reviews each argument in turn.
is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable finder of
fact could find in favor of the other party. Vallone v.
CNA Fin. Corp., 375 F.3d 623, 631 (7th Cir. 2004). Bank
of America argues that it is entitled to summary judgment
because Gunchick failed to file within the statute of
limitations or to exhaust the remedies provided by the
pension plan administrator. Bank of America also argues that
it is entitled to summary judgment because no reasonable
finder of fact could find that the pension administrator
acted arbitrarily or capriciously.
Statute of limitations
bring an ERISA claim under section 1132, the plaintiff must
assert the claim within the statute of limitations.
Rupert v. Alliant Energy Cash Balance Pension Plan,
726 F.3d 936, 941 (7th Cir. 2013). Because Congress did not
expressly include a statute of limitations for claims under
section 1132, "the court borrows a statute of
limitations from an analogous state law." Id.
The Seventh Circuit has identified 735 ILCS 5/13-206, which
provides a ten-year statute of limitations for actions on
certain written instruments, as the analogous state law in
Illinois. Lumpkin v. Envirodyne Indus., Inc., 933
F.2d 449, 465-66 (7th Cir. 1991). See also Hakim v.
Accenture United States Pension Plan, 656 F.Supp.2d 801,
819 (N.D. Ill. 2009) (applying the ten-year statute of
limitations of 735 ILCS 5/13-206 to a section 1132 claim).
"The general federal common law rule is that an ERISA
claim accrues when the plaintiff knows or should know of
conduct that interferes with the plaintiff's ERISA
rights." Young v. Verizon's Bell Atlantic Cash
Balance Plan, 615 F.3d 808, 817 (7th Cir. 2010).
America contends that Gunchick's claim is barred, because
the ten-year limitation period commenced in November 2003,
when he received a letter confirming his pension benefits.
See Def.'s Ex. A at 31 (Nov. 20, 2003 letter
describing pension payment options). In what appears to be an
attachment to the letter, Bank of America advises Gunchick
that his credited service commenced on January 1, 1993,
id. at 35, and that his pay was $30, 568.16 in 2002
and $36, 000 in 2003. Id. at 37. Gunchick's
present suit contests both of these figures. Because Bank of
America notified Gunchick how it would calculate his length
of service and compensation history in its benefits letter,
his ERISA claim accrued in November 2003. Young, 615
F.3d at 817. See also Lofton v. Panasonic Pension
Plan, No. 10 C 3909, 2012 WL 6186595, at *5 (N.D.
Ill.Dec. 12, 2012) (finding that plaintiff's claim
accrued upon receipt of a letter from the plan administrator
describing the pension benefits that the plaintiff's suit
contested). The limitations period expired in November 2013.
For this reason, Gunchick's suit, filed in 2016, is
defendant is entitled to judgment on a plaintiff's ERISA
claim if the plaintiff has not exhausted the remedies
provided by the plan administrator. Orr v. Assurant Emp.
Bens., 786 F.3d 596, 601 (7th Cir. 2015).
America argues that Gunchick did not exhaust the remedies
available to challenge the calculation of his length of
service, because he did not raise this issue at each level of
appeal provided by the pension administrator. Def.'s Mem.
in Supp. of Summ. J. at 8. The pension plan provides two
levels of review to hear pensioners' challenges.
Def.'s Ex. A at 10 (Bank of America Pension Plan for
Legacy LaSalle) (describing right to appeal). Gunchick
initially raised both his compensation and length of service
complaints. But when Gunchick filed his appeal of his claim
denial, he did not address the length of service calculation.
Id. at 24. He therefore failed to exhaust internal
plan remedies on this point. In response, Gunchick argues
that Bank of America, when it denied his appeal, stated he
was free to bring his claim in federal court. Resp. Br. at 8.
This is no excuse: Bank of America's letter only
addressed the compensation issue that Gunchick appealed, not
the length of service issue that he did not raise.
Gunchick's failure to exhaust available plan remedies
regarding the length of service calculation precludes his
claim on that point.
Bank of America argues that it is entitled to summary
judgment on the merits of Gunchick's claim. A reviewing
court may set aside an administrator's decision only if
it is "arbitrary and capricious." Cozzie v.
Metro. Life Ins. Co., 140 F.3d 1104, 1107 (7th Cir.
1998). This "extremely deferential" standard of
review only requires the administrator to make "a
rational connection between the issue to be decided, the
evidence in the case, the text under ...