Under Abatie, Discovery of Profitability Reports is Not Allowed

Bartholomew v. Unum Life Ins. Co., 579 F.Supp.2d 1339 (W.D.Wash. 2008)

Plaintiff, who sued to recover benefits under her long-term disability (LTD) plan, sought to expand the scope of discovery under ERISA by seeking documents outside the Administrative Record. Among others, the Plaintiff requested; “Details of compensation and financial incentives,” “revenue and profitability reports for the last 10 years,” and “[a]ny document discussing the claims handling process published during the last 10 years.” Despite the recent rulings in Abatie allowing weight to be given to structural conflict of interest analysis, the District Count held that Plaintiff was not allowed to engage in a fishing expedition. Here, the discovery requests were not narrowly tailored to lead to discovery of admissible evidence. Therefore, Plaintiff’s request for discovery outside the statutory guidelines was appropriately denied.

Hearsay Exception Required for Certain Documents Outside the Administrative Record

Bartholomew v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of America, 588 F. Supp. 2d 1262 (W.D. Wash. 2008.)

A Plan participant brought suit under ERISA challenging the claim administrator’s decision to terminate long term disability benefits. On a motion for summary judgment, the District Court held that the hearsay rule barred the court from considering documents that discussed the administrator’s past claims handling practices. In its decision, the Court acknowledged that a history of biased claim administration was a key factor in weighing the conflict of interest. Nevertheless, the court held that documents containing a recitation of the defendant’s past administrative abuses did not fall under any of the hearsay exceptions. The court also considered the Regulatory Settlement Agreement (“RSA”) with the Department of Labor and found the report admissible as an admission of a party opponent. However, while the RSA could not be offered as evidence of claims handling in this case, the RSA warranted a more “elevated level of skepticism” with regard to the structural conflict of interest.

Nevertheless, even in light of the structural conflict of interest, the court found that Unum afforded the Plaintiff an opportunity for a “full and fair review” of her claims. Therefore, the administrator’s decision was upheld because it was based on a reasonable interpretation of the plan’s terms and made in good faith.

Structural Conflict Exists Even When Benefits Paid Out of a Trust

Burke v. Pitney Bowes Inc. Long-Term Disability Plan, 544 F.3d 1016 (9th Cir. 2008).

The Plan terminated benefits because it determined that the employee was not totally disabled from any occupation. After appealing their decision and exhausting all administrative remedies, the employee sued in federal court. In light of the recent Supreme Court holding in Glenn, the court vacated the grant of summary judgment and remanded back to the district court to allow the discovery of documents outside the administrative record in order to properly evaluate the structural conflict of interest. The court came to this conclusion even though the employer had no direct financial incentive to deny claims because benefits were paid out of a trust. However, the court disagreed with the holdings in Post v. Hartford (3d Circuit) and Gilley v Monsanto (11th Circuit). Instead, the court reasoned that since the employer would ultimately need to contribute to the trust in order for it to maintain its solvency, it had an incentive to keep claims as low as possible. Therefore, a structural conflict of interest existed.

 Read Judicial Opinion Here

Structural Conflict of Interest Warrants Discovery of Statistical Information on Claims

Walker v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 585 F. Supp. 2d 1167 (N.D. Cal. 2008.)

Plaintiff sued MetLife and Kaiser Permanente Benefits Plan for denying his claim for long-term disability benefits.  The court denied cross motions for summary judgment on the grounds that the Administrative Record did not contain sufficient information regarding MetLife’ relationship with a company, NMR, retained to conduct independent medical reviews such that the court could assess the impact of MetLife’s undisputed structural conflict of interest.  In order to obtain this information, the court ordered MetLife to provide the number of claims that were approved and denied after a review was conducted by an NMR-retained physician.

Continue Reading...