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Holt v. Prudential Insurance Company of America

April 5, 2007

ANGELA HOLT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wigenton, District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiff Angela Holt's Appeal of United States Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo's ("Judge Arleo") September 8, 2006 Order Denying Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration as to the June 8, 2006 Order Granting Defendants' Motion for a Protective Order. The Court, having considered the parties' submissions and having decided the motions without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78, and for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Appeal is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

On September 15, 2006 Angela Holt ("Plaintiff") filed this Appeal of Judge Arleo's September 8, 2006 Order denying her Motion for Reconsideration as to the Court's June 8, 2006 Order granting The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Prudential Financial, and The Matheny School Long Term Disability Plan ("Defendants") a protective order limiting discovery.

In her ruling, Judge Arleo determined that she need not set the standard of review to be applied because under either standard of review, discovery beyond the administrative record is not allowed in this case with the exception of discovery regarding a conflict of interest between defendants. Plaintiff seeks that this Court find Judge Arleo's ruling clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

II. JUDGE ARLEO'S MAY 15, 2006 RULING AND JUNE 8, 2006 ORDER

The parties were before Judge Arleo on May 15, 2006 for oral argument. At oral argument, Plaintiff's counsel argued that her client was entitled to more discovery than the administrative record under Pinto v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co. 214 F.3d 377, 378 (3d Cir. 2000). Judge Arleo however, ruled that under Pinto and other Third Circuit cases, Plaintiff was only entitled to discovery outside the administrative record in regard to the subject of conflict of interest between Prudential and Matheny*fn1 . Judge Arleo granted Plaintiff's discovery request regarding the conflict of interest due to the fact that Prudential both funds and administers the plan*fn2 . Plaintiff's request for discovery pertaining to procedural irregularities, the completeness of the administrative record and bad faith was denied.

On June 13, 2006, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Reconsideration contending that Judge Arleo overlooked controlling case law that supports Plaintiff's position that discovery should be granted. Plaintiff raised two issues before the court: (1) whether Plaintiff is entitled to discovery in this case and (2) what standard of review should be applied. Judge Arleo held that Plaintiff had not offered any controlling case law which the court had overlooked and denied Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration.

Plaintiff now requests that this Court find that Judge Arleo's decision not to determine a standard of review was incorrect. Further, Plaintiff contends that the de novo standard is appropriate to review the denial of her benefits and that her discovery requests are permissible under either the de novo or arbitrary and capricious standards of review.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW FOR APPEALS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE ORDERS

The Federal Magistrates Act provides two separate standards of judicial review: (1) "de novo" for magistrate resolution of dispositive matters and (2) "clearly erroneous or contrary to law" for magistrate resolution of nondispositive matters. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(c), 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); Rule 72.1(a) of the Local Rules of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey; Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108 (3d Cir. 1986). Because the issues raised by the defendant are nondispositive discovery matters, this Court can set aside Judge Arleo's order only if it is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

A finding is contrary to law if the magistrate judge has misinterpreted or misapplied applicable law. "A finding is 'clearly erroneous' when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on consideration of the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Lo Bosco v. Kure Engineering Ltd., 891 F.Supp. 1035, 1037 (D.N.J.1995) (quoting United States v. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). The Third Circuit has interpreted this to mean that the appellate court must accept the factual determination of the fact finder unless that determination "either (1) is completely devoid of minimum evidentiary support displaying some hue of credibility, or (2) bears no rational relationship to the supportive evidentiary data." Haines v. Liggett Group Inc., 975 F.2d 81, 92 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Krasnov v. Dinan, 465 F.2d 1298, 1302 (3d Cir.1972)).

In reviewing a magistrate judge's factual determinations, a district court may not consider any evidence which was not presented to the magistrate judge. See Haines, 975 F.2d at 92; Lithuanian Commerce Corp. v. Sara Lee Hosiery, 177 F.R.D. 205, 213 (D.N.J.1997).

Under the clearly erroneous standard of review, the reviewing court will not reverse the magistrate judge's determination "'even if the court might have decided the matter differently.'" Cardona v. General Motors Corp., 942 F.Supp. 968, 971 (D.N.J. 1996) (quoting Toth v. Alice Pearly, Inc., 158 F.R.D. 47, 50 ...


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