Employees in Chicago with pension claims usually think there is no need for a lawyer until it is time to sue the pension plan. But there are significant advantages to working with a lawyer when making your claim, or challenging a claim denial. ERISA and most pension plans require something called exhaustion of administrative remedies. For a discussion of exhaustion, see our prior blog post. It requires you follow the plan’s internal claim and appeal procedures before filing your lawsuit. These procedures often include time limits on making your claim, and challenging any denial of the claim. Under ERISA regulations, 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1(h)(2)(i), the plan must only give you 60 days to appeal a claim denial. If you do not timely appeal that denial, you could forfeit your right to challenge the decision in court. A recent case demonstrated the pitfalls of handling your own claim.
In Stampone v. Walker, No. 15-cv-6956, 2023 2263596 (D.N.J. Feb. 28, 2023), Stampone challenged how his multi-employer pension plan calculated his work credits for his pension. Stampone contended the credits should be calculated cumulatively, while the Plan calculated them by year, disregarding years in which the claimant had fewer than 300 work hours. The plan denied Stampone’s claim to additional vested work credits. Rather than appealing the denial, Stampone proceeded to litigate his claim under ERISA § 502(a), representing himself at all times.
The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granted the pension plan summary judgment because Stampone failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Stampone was required to appeal the claim denial before he had a right to litigate the issue in federal court. But because Stampone never performed that appeal, he forfeited his right to judicial review of his claim.
If you have a claim for pension benefits, or believe your pension is not accurately calculated, it is best to work with a skilled ERISA pension attorney to pursue your claim and preserve your rights.