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On Dec. 4, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in Intel Corp. Investment Policy Committee v. Sulyma, a case asking what degree of knowledge of a possible violation is necessary to trigger the three-year statute of limitations provided in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Respondent Christopher Sulyma worked for Intel Corporation from 2010-12, and during that time participated in retirement plans governed by ERISA.  In 2015, Sulyma brought suit against Intel’s investment policy committee under various provisions of ERISA, alleging that the committee had invested imprudently and failed to make certain disclosures.  Intel moved to dismiss the complaint based on ERISA’s statute of limitations, which provides that actions like Sulyma’s may not be commenced more than “three years after the earliest date on which the plaintiff had actual knowledge of the breach or violation.”  The district court found that Sulyma had actual knowledge of the alleged violations more than three years before bringing suit, and dismissed the case.  On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that Sulyma’s constructive knowledge of the alleged violations did not rise to the level of “actual knowledge” necessary to trigger the statute of limitations.  It was not sufficient, the Court determined, that the relevant facts were available to the Sulyma; he had actually to be aware of those facts.

The Ninth Circuit’s reasoning on the meaning of “actual knowledge” conflicted with that of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, however, and the Supreme Court subsequently granted certiorari to consider whether the ERISA limitations provision bars suit when all the relevant information was disclosed to the plaintiff by the defendants more than three years before the plaintiff filed the complaint, but the plaintiff chose not to read or could not recall having read the information.

To discuss the cases, we have Matthew S. Rozen, Associate Attorney at Gibson Dunn

As always, the Federalist Society takes no particular legal or public policy positions. All opinions expressed are those of the speakers.