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Rickaby v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 21, 2016

CHRISTOPHER M. RICKABY, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY, a Connecticut corporation, Defendant.

ORDER

NINA Y. WANG, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

This civil action comes before the court on Plaintiff Christopher M. Rickaby’s (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Rickaby”) Motion to Compel Discovery (the “Motion to Compel”) [#47, filed Jan. 14, 2016] and the Joint Motion Regarding Restriction of Exhibits 1 and 2 to Plaintiff’s Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record (the “Motion to Restrict”) [#61, filed Mar. 22, 2016]. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Order Referring case dated May 13, 2015 [#10] and the memoranda dated January 14, 2016 [#48] and March 22, 2016 [#62], these motions are before this Magistrate Judge.

BACKGROUND

This is an ERISA case under 29 U.S.C. § 1132 involving Mr. Rickaby’s request for reinstatement of his long-term disability benefits by Defendant Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company (“Hartford” or “Defendant”). Mr. Rickaby filed this matter seeking to recover long-term disability (“LTD”) benefits pursuant to a policy sponsored by his employer, Stryker Corporation (the “Stryker Plan”). See [#1]. Hartford is responsible for paying all benefits under the Stryker Plan and acts as claims administrator for LTD claims under the Stryker Plan. Mr. Rickaby became physically unable to perform the functions of his job duties and took a leave of absence to undergo ankle surgery in February 2008. He then had a number of ankle surgeries and continues to need surgery on a chronic basis due to bilateral degenerative joint disease in his ankles and bone abnormalities, including bilateral ankle tenosynovitis, and chronic bilateral ankle pain with evidence of osteoarthritis of the ankle joints. Mr. Rickaby began to receive LTD benefits in 2008 based on his medical condition, but these benefits were terminated in March 2014. [#1 at 4]. Mr. Rickaby then exhausted his administrative remedies and filed the Complaint in this matter. [#1 at 6].

In his Motion to Compel, Mr. Rickaby seeks to compel Hartford to respond to two interrogatories pertaining to instances in which Hartford has obtained medical opinions through third-party University Disability Consortium (“UDC”) and used those medical opinions as the bases for denial or approval of claims for long-term disability benefits. Mr. Rickaby argues that this discovery is relevant to show the extent of Hartford’s conflict of interest, warranting a reduced level of deference to its decision to deny Mr. Rickaby’s LTD. In particular, Mr. Rickaby argues that Hartford has a long history of relying on opinions by UDC as a basis for denying disability benefits and that discovery into this relationship will help Mr. Rickaby show bias. Hartford opposes the requested discovery. Hartford argues that the discovery Mr. Rickaby requests, which Hartford likens to a “batting average statistic, ” is not appropriate in an ERISA action, as it does not fall within the narrow exception to the Tenth Circuit’s “no additional discovery” rule. [#50 at 1-2].

The Parties’ Motion to Restrict seeks to restrict Exhibit 1 and a portion of Exhibit 2 to Plaintiff’s Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record on the basis that these documents contain Hartford and UDC’s sensitive commercial and financial information. See [#61].

ANALYSIS

I. Motion to Compel

“In an ERISA case where, as here, the plan gives the administrator or fiduciary discretionary authority to determine eligibility for benefits or to construe the terms of the plan, we review the administrator’s decision for an abuse of discretion.” Murphy v. Deloitte & Touche Grp. Ins. Plan, 619 F.3d 1151, 1157 (10th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Under this abuse of discretion standard, the relevant case law generally “prohibits courts from considering materials outside the administrative record where the extra-record materials sought to be introduced relate to a claimant’s eligibility for benefits.” Id. at 1162 (citing Sandoval v. Aetna Life & Cas. Ins. Co., 967 F.2d 377, 380 (10th Cir. 1992). Nevertheless, “[o]ur cases and the Supreme Court’s decision in [Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v.] Glenn, [544 U.S. 105 (2008)], . . . contemplate that this general restriction does not conclusively prohibit a district court from considering extra-record materials related to an administrator’s dual role conflict of interest.” Id. Evidence of a conflict of interest may appear on the face of the plan, by evidence of improper incentives, or through proof of a pattern or practice of unreasonably denying meritorious claims. Glenn, 554 U.S. at 123 (Roberts, J., concurring).

Under Tenth Circuit precedent, the court is not to apply special rules for discovery relating to a dual role conflict of interest, but to consider the requested discovery pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b). Murphy, 619 F.3d at 1163. Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), the scope of discovery is limited to “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” The Tenth Circuit explained the application of Rule 26(b) in ERISA discovery in Murphy:

In exercising its discretion over discovery matters under Rule 26(b), district courts will often need to account for several factors that will militate against broad discovery. First, while a district court must always bear in mind that ERISA seeks a fair and informed resolution of claims, ERISA also seeks to ensure a speedy, inexpensive, and efficient resolution of those claims . . . . And while discovery may, at times, be necessary to allow a claimant to ascertain and argue the seriousness of an administrator’s conflict, Rule 26(b), although broad, has never been a license to engage in an unwieldy, burdensome, and speculative fishing expedition. The party moving to supplement the record or engage in extra-record discovery bears the burden of showing its propriety.
Second, in determining whether a discovery request is overly costly or burdensome in light of its benefits, the district court will need to consider the necessity of discovery. For example, the benefit of allowing detailed discovery related to the administrator’s financial interest in the claim will often be outweighed by its burdens and costs because the inherent dual role conflict makes that financial interest obvious or substantive evidence supporting denial of a claim is so one-sided that the result would not change even giving full weight to the alleged conflict. Similarly, a district court may be able to evaluate the effect of a conflict of interest on an administrator by examining the thoroughness of the administrator’s review, which can be evaluated based on the administrative record.

Murphy, 619 F.3d at 1162-63 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a), a party may file a motion to compel ...


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