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U.S. Supreme Court Opens Its 2013 Term

    

The Court will take up the question of Julie Heimeshoff, whose challenge to a denial of long-term disability benefits was deemed too late. In December 2005, Hartford found that she had failed to provide satisfactory proof of her disability. After an informal appeal, Hartford issued its denial letter on November 25, 2007. The Hartford plan, under which she was covered, imposed a three-year limitations period on legal actions challenging adverse benefit determinations, a clock that began ticking when “proof of loss” was due to Hartford. Heimeshoff filed a lawsuit challenging Hartford's decision on November 18, 2010. Hartford moved to dismiss her claim, arguing the clock had begun to tick in December 2005. A trial court agreed with Hartford and dismissed her claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed, finding that the federal law overseeing employee benefits, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), is silent on benefit claim limitations periods. Because the policy language is unambiguous, the court permitted the plan's contractual limitations period to begin running before the participant would even have been eligible to bring a legal action challenging her claim denial. AARP’s friend-of-the-court brief argues that it is more consistent with ERISA and the judicially created mandatory exhaustion requirement – as well as being more logical and clear to beneficiaries -- to let the internal claims process be completed first.

The Court will also consider McCutcheon v. FEC. A campaign contributor and a national political fundraising committee are challenging decades-old federal laws limiting aggregate campaign contributions (the total amounts an individual can give directly to a campaign or indirectly via election fundraising organizations in a two-year election cycle) by arguing the specific limits are no longer necessary and are redundant given more recent legislation and Supreme Court rulings. Plaintiffs argue that because the law now specifically limits and allows public scrutiny of individual donations to individual funding vehicles, the process provides limits and transparencies and therefore no overall aggregate spending limits are required. AARP’s friend-of-the-court brief points out the history that led to the laws – concerns about obscurity in campaign contributions and the backroom dealings they led to or appeared to lead to – and emphasizes that those dangers are far from past. In fact, recent elections have demonstrated that spending by and on behalf of political candidates continues to increase rapidly every two years, very large contributions by individuals, as well as corporate and non-corporate entities continue to be made in federal campaigns. Meanwhile, campaign finance disclosure, a trend assumed to be robust, predicted to be growing and a premise of permitting freer campaign spending by the Supreme Court, has lagged and in many important areas is virtually non-existent. AARP’s friend-of-the-court brief argues that the petitioners in McCutcheon “turn a blind eye to the real-world consequences of eliminating the aggregate limits, and disregard the ways the limits continue to advance the governmental interest in preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption, as well as in deterring circumvention of the base contribution limits.” The brief also parses the legislative history and the debates leading up to enactment of the overall spending limits, as well as the language of subsequent Supreme Court decisions upholding those limits, and argues that the conditions present then are nearly identical to those that are present today.

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Legal Cases

Find the most recent cases in which AFL has advocated in courts nationwide for the rights of older persons, and filed AARP’s amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs that help courts decide precedent-setting cases.

Strengthening Law and Policy through
Legal Advocacy

Our legal advocacy initiatives  - conducted by AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) - reflect more than 15 years of work in federal and state courts across the country. Through our efforts, we support the Foundation’s four priority areas: Hunger, Income, Housing and Isolation, and ensure that those 50 and older have a voice in the laws and policies that affect their daily lives.