Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in ERISA
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Department of Labor regulations required the administrator of an employee benefit plan to give a claimant, “upon request,” copies of “all documents, records, and other information” that the administrator considered in making an adverse benefit determination. In 2018, the regulations were amended to eliminate “upon request” and require an administrator to provide such information “sufficiently in advance” of an adverse determination “to give the claimant a reasonable opportunity to respond.”Zall, a dentist for 20 years, sought long-term disability benefits in 2013 after pain and numbness forced him to stop working. His insurer, Standard denied the claim. In 2014, after considering additional medical information and consulting an orthopedic surgeon, Standard approved Zall’s claim, including retroactive payments. Less than a year later, Standard began reviewing his case to see if his condition was subject to a 24-month benefit limit applicable to any disability “caused or contributed to by … carpal tunnel or repetitive motion syndrome” or “diseases or disorders of the cervical, thoracic, or lumbosacral back and its surrounding soft tissue.” Standard ultimately terminated Zall’s benefits.Zall filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001, arguing that the decision was arbitrary and capricious and that Standard violated ERISA’s procedural requirements by failing to afford him “a full and fair review.” The district court granted Standard summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The plain language shows that the amended regulation applies; Standard failed to comply. View "Zall v. Standard Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company denied Plaintiff’s claim for long-term disability benefits after concluding that she was not “Totally Disabled” as defined by her disability insurance plan. Plaintiff brought an under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. Section 1132(a)(1)(B), arguing that the denial of benefits violated that Act. After conducting a bench trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, the district court awarded judgment to Plaintiff. Reliance appealed, arguing that courts in the Fourth Circuit are required to resolve ERISA denial-of-benefits cases via summary judgment and that the district court erred in dispensing with this case through a bench trial. Reliance also argued that this Court must review the district court’s legal conclusions.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court first held that because the plan at issue here did not require objective proof of disability, the court rejected Reliance’s contention that Plaintiff’s claim fails for the lack of such evidence. Further, the court wrote that the record supports the district court’s determination that Plaintiff’s disability was not limited to a “specific locale.” Accordingly, the court agreed that Plaintiff was “totally disabled” under the terms of the plan. View "Anita Tekmen v. Reliance Standard Life Ins." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs in these 177 consolidated appeals1 were participants in a 401(k) Profit Sharing Plan (the “Plan”) provided to employees by DST Systems, Inc. (“DST”), a financial and healthcare services company based in Kansas City, Missouri. At the time in question, DST was the Plan’s sponsor, administrator, and a designated fiduciary. Ruane Cunniff & Goldfarb Inc. (“Ruane”) was a Plan fiduciary involved in managing the Plan’s investments. Between October and December 2021, the district court issued seven largely identical orders confirming the arbitration awards to 177 claimants and granting their requests for substantial costs and attorneys’ fees. Defendants appealed, raising numerous issues.   The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment including the awards of attorney’s fees, and the consolidated cases are remanded to the district court for determination of transfer and subject matter jurisdiction issues, to the extent necessary. The court concluded that transfer under Section 1631 is an issue that can be addressed before the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction is resolved. The court declined to consider the issue because Badgerow has changed underlying circumstances that may affect whether transfer “is in the interest of justice.” View "Theresa Hursh v. DST Systems, Inc" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff challenged Lincoln’s denial of her claim for long-term disability benefits. On de novo review, the district court affirmed Lincoln’s denial of Plaintiff's claim, but it adopted new rationales that the ERISA plan administrator did not rely on during the administrative process. Specifically, the district court found for the first time that Plaintiff was not credible and that she had failed to supply objective evidence to support her claim.The Ninth Circuit held that when a district court reviews de novo a plan administrator’s denial of benefits, it examines the administrative record without deference to the administrator’s conclusions to determine whether the administrator erred in denying benefits. The district court’s task is to determine whether the plan administrator’s decision is supported by the record, not to engage in a new determination of whether the claimant is disabled. Accordingly, the district court must examine only the rationales the plan administrator relied on in denying benefits and cannot adopt new rationales that the claimant had no opportunity to respond to during the administrative process.Here, the district court erred because it relied on new rationales to affirm the denial of benefits. View "VICKI COLLIER V. LINCOLN LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sought accidental death benefits under an employee benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) after his wife died from injecting herself with a cocktail of unprescribed narcotics. The district court upheld the Life Insurance Company of North America’s (LINA) decision to deny benefits based on a policy exclusion for the “voluntary ingestion of any narcotic, drug, poison, gas or fumes unless prescribed or taken under the direction of a Physician.” Plaintiff appealed, contending that the district court erred because LINA’s decision was unreasonable and not supported by substantial evidence.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court decided that LINA’s interpretation of “ingestion” was reasonable. The court then turned to whether LINA’s application of its interpretation to the facts is supported by substantial evidence. Here, the wife undisputedly died because she willingly injected herself with a combination of unprescribed narcotics. Therefore, there is sufficient evidence to support LINA’s application of the voluntary ingestion exclusion to the wife’s death. Thus, because the court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that LINA’s denial of benefits was justified in light of the voluntary ingestion exclusion, the court wrote it need not address LINA’s assertion that the wife’s death was not accidental. View "Jay Richmond v. Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Principal Life Insurance Company (Principal) offers a product called the Principal Fixed Income Option (PFIO), a stable value contract, to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Plaintiff on behalf of himself and a class of plan participants who deposited money into the PFIO, sued Principal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), claiming that it (1) breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty by setting a low-interest rate for participants and (2) engaged in a prohibited transaction by using the PFIO contract to make money for itself. The district court granted summary judgment to Principal after concluding that it was not a fiduciary. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Principal was a fiduciary. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Principal on both claims after a bench trial. Plaintiff challenges the court’s judgment.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Principal and the participants share an interest because a guaranteed CCR that is too high threatens the long-term sustainability of the guarantees of the PFIO, which is detrimental to the interest of the participants. The question then becomes whether the court clearly erred by finding that Principal set the CCR in the participants’ interests. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the deducts were reasonable and set by Principal in the participants’ interest of paying a reasonable amount for the PFIO’s administration.  Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Principal on the prohibited transaction claim because it is exempted from liability for receiving reasonable compensation. View "Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff's son died in a single-vehicle collision. At the time, he was intoxicated and driving the wrong way on a one-way road. The accidental death and dismemberment insurance policy obtained from defendant Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) by the plaintiff via his employer paid benefits for a “Covered Accident,” defined as “[a] sudden, unforeseeable, external event that results, directly and independently of all other causes.”Applying the Padfield test, Padfield v. AIG Life Ins. Co., 290 F.3d 1121 (9th Cir. 2002), the son’s death was an “accident” because, while the facts demonstrated that the son engaged in reckless conduct, the record did not show that his death was “substantially certain” to result from that conduct. Thus, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding. View "SCOTT WOLF V. INS. CO. OF N. AMERICA" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of an employee's widow in this insurance dispute, holding that the employee did not lose life insurance coverage under his employer's group policy after he developed a brain tumor that disrupted his usual work.Plaintiff, the employee's widow, submitted a statement to Insurer claiming approximately $1 under her late husband's life insurance policy. Insurer denied the claim. Plaintiff then sued, alleging wrongful denial of benefits under section 502(a) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B), (a)(3). The insurance company denied life insurance coverage on the grounds that the employee's coverage under the policy had lapsed. The district court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) because the policy language invoked by Insurer in this case was less than clear the rule that ambiguous terms in an insurance policy should be read in favor of coverage applied; and (2) the employee was covered at the time of his demise. View "Ministeri v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co." on Justia 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