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Babin v. Quality Energy Services, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 14, 2017

TODD M. BABIN, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
QUALITY ENERGY SERVICES, INCORPORATED Defendant-Appellee

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before KING, DENNIS, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.

          KING, Circuit Judge:

         Todd M. Babin worked for Quality Energy Services, Inc., until he became disabled in 2012. He applied for short-term disability benefits through Quality Energy's employee benefit plan. His application was denied in February 2013. In February 2014, he requested documents regarding both the short- and long-term disability plans, but he alleges that Quality Energy never sent those documents to him. Babin ultimately filed suit against Quality Energy and its disability insurer in October 2015, alleging claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 for failure to pay benefits and failure to produce plan documents. The parties settled the failure-to-pay-benefits claim, and Quality Energy moved for summary judgment on the failure-to-produce-documents claim. The district court concluded that Babin's claim was time-barred and granted summary judgment. On appeal, Babin argues that Louisiana's ten-year prescriptive period for personal actions should govern his claim for failure to produce documents under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c). We conclude, however, that Louisiana's one-year period for delictual actions applies and that Babin's claim is time-barred. As a result, we AFFIRM.

         I.

         Todd M. Babin, a resident of Louisiana, was an employee of Quality Energy Services, Inc. ("Quality Energy"), a Louisiana corporation. According to Babin's complaint, his job involved repetitive tasks that triggered carpal tunnel syndrome. Babin went through several surgeries to try to repair his injuries. He underwent a right carpal tunnel release in January 2011 and a left carpal tunnel release in December 2011. Babin returned to work shortly afterwards, in February 2012. Three months later, however, his employment with Quality Energy ended.

         Babin participated in Quality Energy's employee benefit plan, which provided short- and long-term disability benefits. The parties agree that the plan was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") of 1974, Pub. L. No. 93-406, 88 Stat. 829 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 26 and 29 U.S.C.). In June 2012, Babin's counsel requested, among other documents, a group disability application form, which Quality Energy provided. Babin then submitted a short-term disability benefits application to Standard Insurance Company ("Standard"), Quality Energy's disability insurer.

         On February 25, 2013, Standard denied Babin's claim because it had not received a necessary form from Quality Energy. Babin alleges that he provided that form to Quality Energy, which failed to complete it. About one year later, on February 5, 2014, Babin's counsel asked Quality Energy to provide copies of the short- and long-term disability plan documents. Babin claims that Quality Energy did not send him any plan documents before he filed this action.[1] According to Babin, when he applied for short-term disability benefits, he was under the impression that the short-term disability plan provided six months of benefits. Babin has since discovered that the short-term plan only provides three months of benefits. Had he known this earlier, he claims, he would have applied for long-term benefits. In Babin's view, Quality Energy's failure to produce the plan documents caused him to miss the window for applying for long-term benefits.

         Babin filed this action against Quality Energy and Standard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on October 12, 2015-over one year and eight months after requesting the plan documents. He alleged that Quality Energy and Standard had failed to pay benefits due under the plan, and that Quality Energy had failed to provide plan documents, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c). The parties settled the denial-of-benefits claim. Quality Energy then moved for summary judgment on Babin's remaining claim, arguing that it was time-barred. The district court agreed. It held that Louisiana's one-year prescriptive period for delictual claims applies to § 1132(c) claims and that Babin's claim was time-barred.[2] The court then entered final judgment in favor of Quality Energy, which Babin timely appealed.

          II.

         This court "review[s] a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the district court." Vela v. City of Houston, 276 F.3d 659, 666 (5th Cir. 2001). A court must enter summary judgment if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is appropriate where the undisputed facts demonstrate that a claim is time-barred. See Ayers v. Davidson, 285 F.2d 137, 139 (5th Cir. 1960); 10B Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2734 (4th ed. 2016). The parties do not dispute that Babin requested documents on February 5, 2014, and began this lawsuit on October 12, 2015. Rather, the parties dispute which prescriptive period applies to Babin's claim and whether that period should be tolled. We hold that the one-year prescriptive period applies and decline to entertain Babin's tolling argument. As a result, summary judgment is appropriate because Babin's claim has prescribed even under his version of the facts. Cf. Tex. Soil Recycling, Inc. v. Intercargo Ins. Co., 273 F.3d 644, 650 (5th Cir. 2001) (affirming grant of summary judgment where undisputed facts showed that statute of limitations had run).

         III.

         A.

         ERISA requires a plan administrator to produce plan documents upon written request from a participant or beneficiary. See 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4). It also imposes penalties on administrators who fail to produce the requested documents within 30 days, see id. § 1132(c), and authorizes participants and beneficiaries to sue administrators for their failure to comply, id. § 1132(a)(1)(A). Because ERISA does not provide a statute of limitations for claims under § 1132(c), the court must "borrow the statute of limitations from the most closely analogous state law." Lopez ex rel. ...


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