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Verme-Gibboney v. Hartford Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 16, 2013

CATHERINE VERME-GIBBONEY, Plaintiff,
v.
THE HARTFORD INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [Doc. No. 42]

JOEL SCHNEIDER, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's "Motion to Compel Discovery." [Doc. No. 42]. The Court received defendant's response [Doc. No. 44], plaintiff's reply [Doc. No. 48], and held oral argument. The issue to be addressed generally concerns the scope of discovery plaintiff is entitled to in this ERISA case. For the reasons to be discussed, plaintiff's motion is DENIED.

Background

Defendant insured plaintiff through an employee welfare benefit plan, which provides long term disability ("LTD") benefits to participants. In July 2008, plaintiff was placed on disability by her treating physician and sought LTD coverage. Defendant initially accepted plaintiff's claims and provided LTD benefits but on January 14, 2010, defendant terminated the benefits. See Amended Compl. ΒΆΒΆ 7, 8 [Doc. No. 11]. Plaintiff filed a claim with defendant to have her LTD benefits reinstated but defendant denied the request. Plaintiff appealed the decision. After the appeal was denied plaintiff filed this action in the Superior Court of New Jersey seeking damages and reinstatement of her LTD benefits. Defendant subsequently removed the case to this Court.

This is plaintiff's second Motion to Compel Discovery. On October 24, 2012 [Doc. No. 33] the Court denied plaintiff's first motion which asked the Court to Order defendant to respond to her interrogatories, documents requests and deposition notice. In its Order the Court found that since plaintiff's plan granted discretionary authority to the administrator to determine eligibility benefits, defendant's decision to terminate plaintiff's LTD benefits "must be reviewed under an arbitrary and capricious standard." Order at 4. The Court, therefore, denied plaintiff's request that defendant respond to her "de novo discovery" directed to the merits of defendant's decision to terminate plaintiff's benefits. The Court also ruled:

[P]laintiff may conduct limited discovery to determine the scope of defendant's conflict and the extent to which the conflict may have affected the administrator's determination about plan eligibility.... However, discovery should only be permitted to fill gaps in the administrative record. If the administrative record adequately explains the procedures used to prevent or mitigate a conflicts problem, limited discovery is not permissible.

Order at 6.

Following up on the Court's October 24, 2012 Order, plaintiff served defendant with interrogatories and a corporate designee deposition notice. Defendant served objections and responses to the interrogatories, and objected to the deposition notice.[1] Plaintiff argues her discovery is designed to "fill in the gaps of the administrative record to determine whether or not the potential conflict of the arbitrator, and/or what and how said individual insulated and/or isolated themselves." March 3, 2013 Letter Brief ("LB") at 2. Defendant argues it provided plaintiff with all the relevant information it was required to produce. Defendant's Brief states:

In brief, Hartford explained that the initial termination was made in the claims department while the final determination was made in a wholly separate appeals unit. Personnel in the claims and appeals units do not have access to or knowledge of financial information regarding any policyholder, nor is the information regarding the profitability or any other financial information regarding a policyholder provided to, or accessible by, those people. Rather, the people deciding initial claims or making determination on appeal have been effectively "walled-off" from Hartford's finance department by ensuring that their compensation is not determined by reference to their record in approving or denying claims. Additionally, claims personnel are separate from and not involved with the persons responsible for Hartford's financial operations or decisions and they do not have any role or responsibility for management, reporting, or other functions regarding Hartford's finances. They are not required to interact in any way with employees involved in underwriting or other financial concerns when making benefit decisions.

Response Brief at 4-5. According to defendant, it does not have to provide any further information or produce a witness for deposition because the additional requested information is not needed to fill in any gaps in the administrative record. Id . at 3. In response plaintiff argues:

Pursuant to relevant case law, plaintiff is and has always been entitled to inquire into how, if at all defendant was able to elect "a firewall" to prevent the inherent conflict associated with making a determination as to whether or not one would be entitled to ongoing benefits from one's own insurance company, despite representing and working for the company in question.

April 15, 2013 LB at l. Plaintiff also argues she is "entitled to a determination as to whether or not defendant created a firewall sufficient to avoid prejudice and any inherent conflict." Id . at 2.

Discussion

There are several problems with plaintiff's motion. First, although plaintiff asks the Court to Order defendant to serve supplemental discovery answers, she did not specifically identify the relevant information she requested that was not produced. Further, plaintiff asks the court to order defendant's designee to appear for what is presumably a Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6) deposition, but she did not attach the notice to her moving ...


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