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3L Annette DeSipio Wins ACEBC’s 2022 Sidney M. Perlstadt Award

Annette DeSipio and Professor Norman Stein at the awards ceremony for the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel (ACEBC)

October 05, 2022

Annette DeSipio, 3L and executive research editor of Drexel Law Review, Vol. XV, was named one of the winners of the 2022 Student Writing Competition Awards from the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel (ACEBC).

DeSipio’s paper, titled “Sulyma and Its Aftermath: ERISA’s Fiduciary Statute of Limitations and the Meaning of Knowledge,” won the 2022 Sidney M. Perlstadt Award, one of two monetary awards the ACEBC offers annually.

“It was a very nice surprise to find out I won this award. I am very excited and honored to receive it,” DeSipio said. “It is nice getting to receive recognition for a paper I spent a lot of time on researching and writing. It made me feel that my studies and the amount of time I have put into law school have paid off.”

DeSipio’s paper discusses two competing statute-of-limitations periods (three years and six years, respectively) for filing legal actions against fiduciaries for violations of their responsibilities and obligations under ERISA.

“Under section 413 of ERISA, a plaintiff must bring a lawsuit within three years from the date of the breach or violation when the plaintiff has actual knowledge of the breach or violation, or six years from the date of the breach or violation, if the plaintiff did not have actual knowledge, whichever is earlier,” DeSipio explained.

The paper examines the Supreme Court case Intel Corporation Investment Policy Committee v. Sulyma, in which the Court held that actual knowledge or willful blindness, but not constructive knowledge, may trigger the three-year statute of limitations period. The paper considers lower courts’ opinions before and after Sulyma and explores the willful blindness doctrine and what it means to have actual knowledge of a breach or violation, an issue not addressed in the Sulyma case.

DeSipio’s topic relates to her previous work experience at an investment management company, working with investors and helping them determine proper investment products based on investors’ goals, risk tolerance and how long the money would be invested.

“As an attorney, I want to utilize the knowledge I gained from my prior work experience and incorporate it into my work with the law,” she said. “This paper is a demonstration of that goal.”

Professor Norman Stein provided detailed feedback and support for my paper throughout the process of writing it,” DeSipio said. “He provided his insight and profound knowledge of ERISA, the statute of limitations period, and completing policy reasons regarding the limitations period. He helped me think about these topics in an intuitive manner and pushed me to think deeply about the topic. His feedback was highly valued and an important part of the process of writing this paper.”

Professor Stein said that in the years he’s taught a course on employee benefits, almost every student has chosen a topic from a list of ideas he provided. It struck him that DeSipio chose her own topic.

“It’s an excellent, very thoughtful paper,” Stein said. “To have one of my students win makes me really happy and very proud.”

Stein also noted that Drexel is one of only four law schools to have a student win the Sidney M. Perlstadt Award more than once.

DeSipio received the award at the College’s 22nd Annual Induction Ceremony on Sept. 17 at the Chicago Club in Chicago, Illinois.