Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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Tymoc died in a single-car accident. At the time of the accident, Tymoc was traveling between 80-100 miles per hour; the speed limit was 60 miles per hour speed. As Tymoc attempted to pass multiple cars, the gap between a car in the right lane and a box truck in the left lane closed. Tymoc veered to the right, causing his vehicle to drive off the road, roll down an embankment, striking multiple trees, and flip over several times.Through his employer, Tymoc was covered by Unum life insurance; the policy provided both basic life insurance coverage and an additional accidental death benefit. Unum approved a $100,000 payment of group life insurance benefits but withheld $100,000 in accidental death benefits, explaining that Tymoc’s conduct—speeding and reckless driving—caused his death, thereby triggering the policy’s crime exclusion. In a suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001– 1191d, the district court entered in Fulkerson’s favor as to the accidental death benefits. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Reckless driving falls within the unambiguous plain meaning of crime. View "Fulkerson v. Unum Life Insurance Co. of America" on Justia Law

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Canter worked as a premises technician, installing wires, lifting heavy loads, and climbing tall ladders. After he began to suffer from severe migraines, lightheadedness, and dizziness, Canter concluded that he no longer could perform that work. He applied for short-term disability benefits in February 2017 through an AT&T plan. The plan administrator granted benefits for a few months, but AT&T terminated benefits after an independent medical reviewer concluded that Canter’s medical tests were normal and that his symptoms had improved. After Canter unsuccessfully appealed this decision using AT&T’s internal processes, he sued under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision but reversed the court’s award of $181 in pro hac vice fees to the defendants as not taxable “costs” under 28 U.S.C. 1920. Extensive medical testing consistently yielded normal results, even though the medical providers and reviewers thought that a significant problem would have shown up in one or more concrete, physiological ways. Canter himself reported that he was experiencing improvement. View "Canter v. AT&T Umbrella Benefit Plan No.3" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Defendant insurance company for mishandling his wife’s enrollment for supplemental life insurance and then declaring her ineligible for coverage after she died. The district court determined Defendant violated ERISA, finding Defendant breached its fiduciary duty to ensure its system of administration did not allow it to collect premiums until coverage was actually effective. Defendant appealed.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Defendant maintained its fiduciary duty despite the fact that the deceased's employer collected premium payments before forwarding them to Defendant. The plan in question gave Defendant discretion to approve benefits, which under ERISA is sufficient to create a fiduciary duty. Defendant violated its fiduciary duty by failing to maintain an effective enrollment system. Under ERISA, a fiduciary must discharge its duties with reasonable care, skill, prudence and diligence. The court held that a reasonably prudent insurer would use a system that avoids the employer and insurer having different lists of eligible, enrolled participants. Defendant's billing system breached the fiduciary duty it owed to the deceased. Thus, the court affirmed the district court's granting of summary judgment to Plaintiff. View "Corey Skelton v. Reliance Standard Life Ins Co" on Justia Law

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After more than a decade of employment, a seizure disorder ended Dr. Autran’s career as a P&G research scientist. Autran received total-disability benefits under P&G’s Health and Long-Term Disability Plan in 2012-2018. The Committee terminated those benefits after concluding that Autran no longer qualified as totally disabled within the meaning of the Plan, and awarded him his remaining 19 weeks of partial disability benefits. Autran sued under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). He died while the suit was pending.The Sixth Circuit upheld summary judgment in favor of the Committee. Because the Plan delegates discretionary authority to the Committee to decide benefits claims, the court applied the deferential arbitrary-and-capricious test. The Committee had rational reasons to depart from the earlier total-disability finding. Among other new evidence, a doctor who performed many objective tests on Autran for over six hours found no basis to conclude that he suffered from a debilitating condition. Thorough medical opinions gave the Committee a firm foundation to conclude that Autran did not, in the Plan’s words, suffer from a “mental or physical condition” that the “medical profession” would consider “totally disabling.” View "Autran v. P&G Health & Long Term Disability Benefit Plan" on Justia Law

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Wilson participates in a health insurance plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Wilson’s minor son, J.W., a beneficiary of the Plan, received in-patient mental health treatment. The Plan denied coverage. Wilson filed suit under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The court affirmed the denial of coverage for treatment from December 1, 2015, through May 15, 2016, concluding the plan administrator acted reasonably under the relevant factors. The court dismissed, for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, Wilson’s claims arising from treatment received from May 15, 2016, through J.W.’s discharge on July 31, 2017.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of the claims for 2015-2016 as not medically necessary. J.W. did not require intensive psychological intervention and saw a licensed psychiatrist only about one time each month. The court vacated the dismissal of Wilson’s claims for the administrator’s coverage determinations that were made before January 26, 2017, and that were not for services provided 2015-2016. The court affirmed the dismissal of Wilson’s claim for coverage determinations the administrator made after January 26, 2017, (regardless of when the corresponding services were provided) because Wilson failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for those claims. View "Wilson v. UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Lereta maintained an ERISA-governed benefits plan, subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) that provided short-term disability (STD) and long-term disability (LTD) to its employees, including Newsom. Reliance issued the policies that funded these benefits and served as the benefits claims administrator. Newsom filed suit following Reliance’s determination that he was ineligible for LTD benefits.The district judge entered an order in favor of Newsom, awarding him LTD benefits. The Fifth Circuit affirmed as to Newsom’s eligibility for LTD benefits and alleged date of disability but vacated as to Newsom’s entitlement to LTD benefits. The court remanded with instructions for the district court to remand Newsom’s claim to the administrator for further proceedings. The district court did not err by interpreting the term “full time” and its reference to a “regular work week” to mean the “scheduled workweek” set by Lereta for Newsom. Although that factual record contains medical records Newsom submitted during Reliance’s evaluation of his claim, the merits evidence is at best incomplete and undermines the district court’s benefits determination; the court’s benefits determination does not fully square with the record. View "Newsom v. Reliance Stnrd Life Ins" on Justia Law

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Soto, a former Disney employee, alleged that Disney improperly denied her severance benefits upon her termination for physical illness that rendered her unable to work. Soto, a longtime employee had experienced a severe stroke and other medical problems, which left her unable to work. Disney formally terminated Soto’s employment, paid Soto sick pay, short-term illness benefits, and long-term disability benefits but did not pay her severance benefits. She filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B); (a)(3), alleging that the Plan Administrator improperly determined that she did not experience a qualifying “Layoff” as required for severance benefits.The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her case. Her complaint does not plausibly allege that the interpretation of “Layoff” and resulting denial of severance benefits to Soto were arbitrary and capricious. The Plan Administrator had reasoned bases, relating to taxation, for its interpretation of “Layoff” and consequent denial of severance benefits. The court noted an IRS regulation that defines an “involuntary” “termination of employment” as one arising from “the independent exercise of the unilateral authority of the [employer] to terminate to [employee’s] services, . . . where the [employee] was willing and able to continue performing services.” View "Soto v. Disney Severance Pay Plan" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Vercellino was injured in an accident while riding on an ATV operated by his friend, Kenney. Both were minors. Vercellino was a covered dependent on his mother’s insurance plan. The plan is self-funded, so ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001, preempted state law. The Insurer paid nearly $600,000 in medical expenses and did not exercise its right to seek recovery in subrogation from Kenney or Kenney’s parents during the applicable statutory period, nor did Vercellino’s mother ever file suit to recover medical expenses from the Kenneys. In 2019, Vercellino, then an adult, filed suit against the Kenneys seeking general damages and sought declaratory judgment that the Insurer would have no right of reimbursement from any proceeds recovered in that litigation. The Insurer counterclaimed, seeking declaratory judgment that it would be entitled to recover up to the full amount it paid for Vercellino’s medical expenses from any judgment or settlement Vercellino obtained.The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Insurer. The plain language of the plan at issue here is unambiguous: the Insurer is entitled to seek reimbursement for medical expenses arising out of the ATV accident paid on Vercellino’s behalf from any judgment or settlement he receives in his litigation with Kenney. View "Vercellino v. Optum Insight, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss as to count one of Plaintiffs' complaint and reversed the dismissal and remanded for further proceedings on counts two through four, holding that dismissal was improper as to the remaining three counts.Plaintiffs, S.R. and T.R. and their child N.R., brought this action against Raytheon Company, T.R.'s employer, after United Healthcare, which administered the company's health insurance plan, refused to pay for N.R.'s speech therapy, alleging various violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, et seq. The district court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss in full. The First Circuit held (1) the district court properly dismissed count one of the complaint; but (2) the dismissal of Plaintiffs' remaining claims was improper. View "N.R. v. Raytheon Co." on Justia Law

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Through a bankruptcy proceeding, Bristol became the successor-in-interest to Haven, an accredited mental-health and substance-abuse treatment center that regularly serviced patients insured by Cigna. Bristol alleged that Cigna violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and state law by denying Haven’s claims for reimbursement for services provided. Haven was out-of-network for Cigna’s insureds. The district court dismissed Bristol’s ERISA claim, as an assignee of a healthcare provider, for lack of derivative standing, or lack of authority to bring a claim under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B).The Ninth Circuit reversed. Under ERISA, a non-participant health provider cannot bring claims for benefits on its own behalf but must do so derivatively, relying on its patients’ assignments of their benefits claims. Other assignees also may have derivative standing if extending standing would align with the goal of ERISA. Refusing to allow derivative standing for Bristol would create serious perverse incentives that would undermine the goal of ERISA. Denying derivative standing to health care providers would harm participants or beneficiaries because it would discourage providers from becoming assignees and possibly from helping beneficiaries who were unable to pay up-front. View "Bristol SL Holdings, Inc. v. Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law