Justia ERISA Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Insurance Law
Jody Rose v. PSA Airlines, Inc.
Plaintiff’s son had a rare heart condition. He died at the age of twenty-seven, awaiting a heart transplant, which Rose says that Defendants—who administered her son’s employer-based health benefits program—wrongfully denied. So she sued on behalf of his estate, seeking monetary relief under both Section 502(a)(1)(B) and Section 502(a)(3). The district court dismissed both claims. As to Plaintiff’s (a)(1)(B) claim, the court held that money was not one of the “benefits” that her son was owed “under the terms of his plan.” And, as to her (a)(3) claim, the court held that her requested monetary relief was too similar to money damages and was thus not “equitable.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part. The court explained that the district court correctly held that money was not one of the “benefits” that Plaintiff’s son was “due” “under the terms of his plan.” So it was right to dismiss her (a)(1)(B) claim. But the court explained that it must vacate its complete dismissal of Plaintiff’s (a)(3) claim. The court explained that while the district court correctly noted that compensatory, “make-whole” monetary relief is unavailable under Section 502(a)(3), it did not consider whether Plaintiff plausibly alleged facts that would support relief “typically” available in equity. The court thus remanded for the district court to decide in the first instance whether Plaintiff can properly allege such a theory based on a Defendant’s unjust enrichment, including whether an unjust gain can be followed to “specifically identified funds that remain in Defendant’s possession” or to “traceable items that the defendant purchased with the funds.” View "Jody Rose v. PSA Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law
Scanlon v. Life Insurance Co. of North America
Scanlon went on leave from his job as a Systems Administrator at McKesson. He requested accommodations to return to work; McKesson temporarily granted some, but not all, of them. Scanlon did not return to work but sought long-term disability insurance benefits under a McKesson group policy underwritten, insured, and administered by LINA. To meet the definition of “disabled” under the policy, an employee must be unable to perform the “material duties” of the employee’s regular occupation and earn 80% or more of the employee’s indexed earnings from working in the employee’s regular occupation. LINA denied Scanlon’s request and denied two administrative appeals after Scanlon supplied VA examination reports and letters and two residual functional capacity evaluations. LINA's medical examiners concluded that Scanlon was not entitled to benefitsIn a suit under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132, the district court found that Scanlon, a veteran, suffered from myriad chronic orthopedic and sleep disorders that cause him pain and impact his daily life but found Scanlon ineligible for benefits, concluding Scanlon did not show that he cannot perform the material duties of his job. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court clearly erred when it failed to consider Scanlon’s inability to sit at his desk for eight hours a day as required by his occupation and his inability to perform the cognitive requirements of his job during regular work hours and in its treatment of certain medical records Scanlon provided. View "Scanlon v. Life Insurance Co. of North America" on Justia Law
DAVID WIT, ET AL V. UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
United Behavioral Health (“UBH”) appeals from the district court’s judgment finding it liable to classes of Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. Section 1001 et seq. (“ERISA”) Plaintiffs under 29 U.S.C. Sections 1132(a)(1)(B) and (a)(3), as well as several pre- and posttrial orders, including class certification, summary judgment, and a remedies order. UBH contends on appeal that Plaintiffs lack Article III standing and that the district court erred at class certification and trial in several respect. The Ninth Circuit reversed in part. The panel held that Plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring their claims. Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged a concrete injury as to their fiduciary duty claim because UBH’s alleged violation presented a material risk of harm to plaintiffs’ interest in their contractual benefits. Plaintiffs also alleged a concrete injury as to the denial of benefits claim. Further, plaintiffs alleged a particularized injury as to both claims because UBH’s Level of Care Guidelines and Coverage Determination Guidelines for making medical necessity or coverage determinations materially affected each Plaintiff. And Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries were “fairly traceable” to UBH’s conduct. The panel held that the district court did not err in certifying the three classes to pursue the fiduciary duty claim, but the panel reversed the district court’s certification of the denial of benefits classes. The panel held that, on the merits, the district court erred to the extent it determined that the ERISA plans required the Guidelines to be coextensive with generally accepted standards of care. View "DAVID WIT, ET AL V. UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH" on Justia Law
Patterson v. United Healthcare Insurance Co.
United provided Patterson's medical insurance under a plan subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1101. Patterson received a summary plan description, an ERISA-mandated synopsis of important plan terms but was not given a plan document with all of a plan’s governing language. The summary said that if a beneficiary recovered from a third party for an insured incident, the plan had a right to reimbursement. Patterson was injured in a traffic accident. United covered his medical expenses and notified Patterson it would invoke the reimbursement right. Patterson sued the other driver in state court and joined the plan, seeking a declaratory judgment that it had no reimbursement right. United’s lawyers claimed that no plan document existed. Patterson recovered and settled with the plan for $25,000. Months later, Patterson’s wife suffered injuries in another traffic accident. United paid her medical expenses. Patterson’s wife sued the driver in state court. She obtained a declaratory judgment after the plan's lawyers produced a plan document, stating that it took precedence over the summary and not including a reimbursement right.Patterson then filed a purported class action under ERISA, seeking the return of the $25,000. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Patterson had standing to sue only on his own behalf but has cognizable claims for breach of fiduciary duty and engagement in prohibited transactions. View "Patterson v. United Healthcare Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Melissa McIntyre v. Reliance Standard Life
Plaintiff sued Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company under 29 U.S.C. Section 1132(a)(1)(B), seeking to recover long-term disability benefits. The district court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and denied Reliance’s cross-motion. Reliance appealed, and the Eighth Circuit reversed. The court explained that the cases cited do not demonstrate that Reliance has a history of biased claims administration. Nor do they show some other systemic flaw in its claims review process that affected Reliance’s review of Plaintiff’s claim. On the other hand, Reliance does not argue that it maintained structural separations to minimize its conflict of interest. Therefore, the conflict of interest, in this case, deserves “some weight,” but the court concluded that it does not indicate that Reliance abused its discretion. The court wrote that substantial evidence supports Reliance’s decision, and neither the decisional delay in this case nor the purported conflict of interest leads us to conclude that Reliance abused its discretion. View "Melissa McIntyre v. Reliance Standard Life" on Justia Law
Darrin Shafer v. Zimmerman Transfer, Inc.
Plaintiff underwent bariatric surgery to lose weight. A few months later, Plaintiff began working for Zimmerman Transfer, Inc. and became a participant in its self-insured employee benefit plan. Zimmerman is the plan administrator, and Benefit Plan Administrators of Eau Claire, LLC (“BPA”) served as the third-party administrator until January 2020. After exhausting his administrative appeals, Plaintiff sued BPA and Zimmerman for benefits under Section 1132(a)(1)(B). He then moved for summary judgment against BPA and Zimmerman. Both Defendants filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that because Plaintiff’s plan specifically excludes coverage of treatment for complications of weight-reduction surgery, neither Iowa law nor the ACA requires that his treatment be covered. It is undisputed that Plaintiff’s treatment was due to a complication of his prior bariatric surgery. Thus, Iowa law and the ACA do not require that his treatment be covered. Further, the court wrote that imposing and enforcing coverage limitations, even if it results in a plan participant paying large medical bills, is not inconsistent with the plan’s goal because the plan must allocate limited resources among all plan participants. Accordingly, the court concluded that there was no abuse of discretion in denying Plaintiff’s claim for benefits because the interpretation of the plan was reasonable, and the decision to deny benefits was supported by substantial evidence. View "Darrin Shafer v. Zimmerman Transfer, Inc." on Justia Law
Laake v. Western & Southern Financial Group Flexible Benefits Plan
The Plan is an employee welfare benefit plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). W&S denied Laake’s claim for extended long-term disability (LTD) benefits, indicating that Plan limited LTD benefit to 24 months if the disabling condition is due to any mental, nervous, psychiatric condition or chronic pain.” The Plan refers to “chronic pain syndrome.” No medical doctor had ever diagnosed Laake with “Chronic Pain Syndrome.” Although the Plan fails to define “Chronic Pain Syndrome,” Schedule C—which lists conditions that are excluded from extended LTD benefits—explicitly incorporates the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which does not specifically include “Chronic Pain Syndrome,” but does detail the symptoms and features of “Pain Disorder.” W&S did not ask Laake’s physicians in its questionnaires about the Mental Illness exclusion or “Chronic Pain Syndrome.” None of her physicians indicated that there was any psychological basis for her pain.The district court determined that Laake was entitled to benefits, imposed penalties against W&S, and awarded Laake attorney’s fees and costs, 29 U.S.C. 1132(g)(1). The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In denying benefits without any explanation or supporting evidence, W&S acted arbitrarily and capriciously. Because W&S provided notice that implied one basis for its denial of benefits, but in its final decision included an entirely new basis, it failed to substantially comply with ERISA’s notice requirements. The court noted a finding that W&S engaged in particularly “egregious conduct throughout the course of this litigation.” View "Laake v. Western & Southern Financial Group Flexible Benefits Plan" on Justia Law
Tranbarger v. Lincoln Life & Annuity Co. of New York
After gallbladder surgery, Tranbarger began suffering from multiple medical conditions, including physical pain and chronic fatigue. At work, Tranbarger continued as an accounts receivable manager, a primarily sedentary position. Her supervisor modified some of her responsibilities to accommodate her reduced capacity. Tranbarger resigned in July 2016, citing pain and fatigue.Through her employer, Tranbarger was enrolled in Lincoln's disability insurance plan. About 14 months after resigning, Tranbarger filed a claim for long-term disability benefits. Tranbarger was entitled to benefits if she could show “total disability” such that she was “unable to perform each of the [m]ain [d]uties” of an accounts receivable manager during a six-month “Elimination Period” following her resignation. Tranbarger presented a Social Security ruling in her favor, doctors’ notes, and statements from individuals otherwise familiar with her condition. Lincoln denied Tranbarger’s claim. She sued under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Lincoln. Tranbarger did not demonstrate a continuous inability to perform the main duties of an accounts receivable manager during the six months following her resignation. Although she provided diagnoses from the Mayo Clinic and established that she suffered pain and fatigue, there was little evidence about whether Tranbarger could perform her job functions. View "Tranbarger v. Lincoln Life & Annuity Co. of New York" on Justia Law
Gonzalez v. Blue Cross Blue Shield
Plaintiff is a former federal employee and participant in a health-insurance plan (“Plan”) that is governed by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act (“FEHBA”). The Plan stems from a contract between the federal Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and certain of its affiliates (together, “Blue Cross”). Blue Cross administers the Plan under OPM’s supervision. Plaintiff suffered from cancer, and she asked Blue Cross whether the Plan would cover the proton therapy that her physicians recommended. Blue Cross told her the Plan did not cover that treatment. So Plaintiff chose to receive a different type of radiation treatment, one that the Plan did cover. The second-choice treatment eliminated cancer, but it also caused devastating side effects. Plaintiff then sued OPM and Blue Cross, claiming that the Plan actually does cover proton therapy. As against OPM, she seeks the “benefits” that she wanted but did not receive, as well as an injunction directing OPM to compel Blue Cross to reform its internal processes by, among other things, covering proton therapy in the Plan going forward. As against Blue Cross, she seeks monetary damages under Texas common law. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that neither the advance process nor the proton-therapy guideline poses an immediate threat of injury, so injunctive relief is therefore unavailable. Further, the court found that FEHBA preempts Plaintiff’s common-law claims against Blue Cross. Accordingly, the court held that no relief is available under the relevant statutory and regulatory regime. View "Gonzalez v. Blue Cross Blue Shield" on Justia Law
RACHAEL WINSOR, ET AL V. SEQUOIA BENEFITS & INSURANCE, ET AL
Plaintiffs, current and former employees of RingCentral, participated in RingCentral’s employee welfare benefits plan. The plan participated in the “Tech Benefits Program” administered by Sequoia Benefits and Insurance Services, LLC, a management and insurance brokerage company. The Tech Benefits Program was a MEWA that pooled assets from employer-sponsored plans into a trust fund for the purpose of obtaining insurance benefits for employees at large-group rates. Plaintiffs filed this putative class action on behalf of the RingCentral plan and other Tech Benefits Program participants, asserting that Sequoia owed fiduciary duties to the plan under ERISA because Sequoia allegedly exercised control over plan assets through its operation of the Tech Benefits Program. Plaintiffs alleged that Sequoia violated its fiduciary duties by receiving and retaining commission payments from insurers, which Plaintiffs regarded as kickbacks, and by negotiating allegedly excessive administrative fees with insurers, leading to higher commissions for Sequoia. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of Article III standing. The court held that Plaintiffs failed to establish Article III standing as to either of their two theories of injury. The panel held, as to the out-of-pocket-injury theory, Plaintiffs failed to establish the injury in fact required for Article III standing because their allegations did not demonstrate that they paid higher contributions because of Sequoia’s allegedly wrongful conduct. And Plaintiffs failed to plead the third element, that their injury would likely be redressed by judicial relief. View "RACHAEL WINSOR, ET AL V. SEQUOIA BENEFITS & INSURANCE, ET AL" on Justia Law