Justia ERISA Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Aschermann v. Aetna Life Ins. Co.
Aschermann suffers from degenerating discs and spondylolisthesis and had lumbar fusion operations in 2002 and 2004. Until 2003 she worked as a sales representative. Back pain left her unable to perform its duties. Between 2003 and 2009 she received disability payments under the employer’s disability plan, a welfare-benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The policy provides that after the first two years of benefits, the question becomes whether the recipient can perform any job in the economy as a whole. Lumbermens stopped paying disability benefits to Aschermann in fall 2009, concluding that she could do sedentary work. The district court held that the decision to end her disability benefits was not arbitrary. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Aschermann does not deny that her education B.S. in psychology and master’s degree in social work and experience suit her for many desk-bound positions, but claimed inability to work more than four hours a day. The insurer gave notice complying with ERISA, (29 U.S.C. §1133(1), that it wanted new diagnostic test results and other recent information; she was given a “reasonable opportunity” to supplement the file and receive a “full and fair review.” View "Aschermann v. Aetna Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law
McClelland v. Life Ins. Co. of North America
LINA appealed the district court's ruling that LINA abused its discretion in denying death benefits to Dawn McClelland based upon her husband's life insurance policy. LINA also appealed the district court's award of attorney's fees. The court found that LINA committed an abuse of discretion in denying benefits because its interpretation was contrary to the language of the plan that it would cover "loss of life" based upon an "accident" and because substantial evidence did not support its decision. The court also found that the total fee awarded should be $85,000 and remanded to the district court to enter an award in that amount. The prejudgment interest award was affirmed. View "McClelland v. Life Ins. Co. of North America" on Justia Law
US Airways, Inc v. McCutchen
After defendant was in a serious automobile accident, a benefit plan administered by plaintiff paid $66,866 for his medical expenses. Defendant then recovered $110,000 from third parties, with the assistance of counsel. Plaintiff, which had not sought to enforce its subrogation rights, demanded reimbursement of the entire $66,866 it had paid without allowance for legal costs, which had reduced defendant's net recovery to less than the amount it demanded. Plaintiff sued for "appropriate equitable relief" pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3) B). The district court ordered plaintiff to pay the entire. $66,866. The Third Circuit vacated, holding that defendant may assert equitable limitations, such as unjust enrichment, on plaintiff's equitable claim. View "US Airways, Inc v. McCutchen" on Justia Law
Lucas v. Liberty Life Assurance Company
Plaintiff Steven Lucas filed suit against Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston (Liberty Life), asserting that the company violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) when it denied his claim for long term disability benefits. Finding that the denial of benefits was not arbitrary and capricious, the district court entered judgment in favor of Liberty Life. Plaintiff appealed the district court's decision. Plaintiff was an employee of the Coca-Cola Company. Liberty Life both administered and insured Coca-Cola's long-term disability benefits plan. Under the plan, it has discretionary authority to determine eligibility for benefits. Plaintiff suffered a work-related injury requiring spinal surgery and, after a short period back on the job, stopped working. He filed a claim for long-term disability benefits in August 2005. In September 2007, Liberty Life terminated Plaintiff's benefits after determining that he was not eligible for continued benefits under the "any occupation" provision: while he might not be capable of performing his own occupation, he was capable of performing some occupation comparable to his former position. Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal with Liberty Life, but the company upheld the denial of benefits. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that Liberty Life's decision was supported by substantial evidence, and that Plaintiff failed to show that it was arbitrary and capricious. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's decision. View "Lucas v. Liberty Life Assurance Company" on Justia Law
Frye v. Thompson Steel Co., Inc.
In 2007 employee retired when the steel plant, at which he had worked for 42 years, shut down. Under a plan negotiated by the union, his pension payment, without any offset, was $688.13 a month. Employee was told that payment of his pension would be deferred for more than 10 years because the plan required that employee pay back workers' compensation settlements that he had received after sustaining on-the-job injuries in 2005 and 2006. The plan refers to offset for payments for "disability in the nature of a permanent disability for which the Company is liable." The district court entered judgment for the employee. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The committee's decision was within its discretion; the plan's specific mention of workers' compensation supports its characterization. View "Frye v. Thompson Steel Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Withrow v. Bache Halsey Stuart Shield, Inc.
Plaintiff appealed the district court's dismissal of her ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., action against defendant as not timely filed. Plaintiff was employed by defendant as a stockbroker in 1979 and starting in 1982, plaintiff had been disabled periodically from her employment. Plaintiff applied for long-term disability benefits around January 15, 1987. The court held that plaintiff's claim did not accrue in 1990 with regard to the ERISA statute of limitations, as the district court found, but rather accrued when her claim was finally denied on January 14, 2004. Therefore, plaintiff's action, filed on February 16, 2006, commenced within the four-year statutory limitations period for ERISA claims. The court also held that the limitations provision in the policy here did not apply to disability cases in which the claimant contested the amount of benefits or claims that the benefits have been miscalculated. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Withrow v. Bache Halsey Stuart Shield, Inc." on Justia Law
Green v. Union Security Ins. Co.
After defendant denied plaintiff's claim for long-term disability benefits (LTD benefits), where plaintiff suffered from fibromyalgia, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant pursuant to ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1000 et seq. At issue was whether the district court properly granted summary judgment in plaintiff's favor finding that defendant had abused its discretion in denying benefits to plaintiff. The court held that the district court improperly determined that defendant abused its discretion when it ultimately denied the LTD benefits claim. Based on the record, there was more than a scintilla of evidence supporting defendant's conclusion that plaintiff's condition did not render him "disabled" under the policy's any occupation definition and defendant's decision was supported by substantial evidence, where a reasonable person could have reached a similar decision. The court also held that the fact that defendant operated under a structural conflict of interest, as both plan administrator and insurer, did not warrant a finding that defendant abused its discretion in denying plaintiff's claim. Accordingly, the court reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Green v. Union Security Ins. Co." on Justia Law
River v. Edward D. Jones Co., et al.
Appellant, the named beneficiary of an accident benefits plan that her husband obtained through his employer, brought suit under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., alleging that the plan administrator, Metropolitan Life Insurance (Metlife), abused its discretion in determining that her husband was intoxicated at the time of the accident and denying coverage. At issue was whether the district court properly granted summary judgment to Metlife because Metlife's interpretation of the relevant policies was arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial evidence. The court held that Metlife did not abuse its discretion as plan administrator when it denied benefits based on the general exclusion for intoxication that appeared in the certificate of insurance. The court also held that the toxicology report, which concluded that the husband's blood alcohol level was above the state limit, constituted evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion and therefore, satisfied the substantial evidence standard. The court also held that because it agreed with the district court's conclusion that the denial of benefits was justified in light of the intoxication conclusion, it need not address Metlife's assertion that the husband's death was not accidental because it was reasonably foreseeable or, alternatively, the result of intentional self-inflicted injury. Accordingly, summary judgment was affirmed. View "River v. Edward D. Jones Co., et al." on Justia Law
Crosby v. Louisiana Health Serv.
Appellant appealed the district court's summary judgment on her ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B), claim to recover denied health care benefits and the magistrate judge's decision to limit discovery. At issue was the scope of admissible evidence and permissible discovery in an ERISA action to recover benefits under section 1132(a)(1)(B). The court held that the district court too narrowly defined the scope of discovery where appellant sought to discover evidence that would indicate whether the administrative record was complete, whether Blue Cross complied with ERISA's procedural requirements, and whether Blue Cross previously afforded coverage claims related to the jaw, teeth, or mouth. The court concluded that appellant's discovery request was at least reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of some admissible evidence and that the district court's abuse of discretion prejudiced appellant's ability to demonstrate that Blue Cross failed to comply with ERISA's procedural requirements. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Crosby v. Louisiana Health Serv." on Justia Law
Blankenship v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co.
Plaintiff challenged the denial of his claims for long-term disability benefits by defendant, who served as both the administrator of claims and the payor of benefits in the long-term disability plan in which defendant participated. At issue was whether there was a conflict of interest where defendant was both administrator and payor of benefits of the plan governed by ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001-1461. The court found that defendant considered the medical information submitted by plaintiff's doctors and relied upon the advice of several independent medical professionals to conclude that plaintiff failed to make a sufficient showing of disability under the plan and, even where plaintiff's own doctors offered different medical opinions than defendant's independent doctors, the plan administrator could give different weight to those opinions without acting arbitrarily or capriciously. Therefore, the court held that a reasonable basis supported defendant's benefits decisions and that the conflict of interest did not render the decisions arbitrary or capricious. View "Blankenship v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law