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Wittmann v. Unum Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 23, 2018


         SECTION “F” (2)



         Plaintiff asserts that defendant denied her claim for long-term disability benefits in bad faith, and she seeks recovery of those benefits pursuant to § 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) (29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)). Record Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 1 and 4. Anne Wittmann (“Wittmann”) was formerly employed as an attorney at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell, Berkowitz PC (“Baker Donelson”). Record Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 8. She was a plan participant under a group benefits plan underwritten and administered by defendant Unum Life Insurance Company of America (“Unum”) for the benefit of Baker Donelson employees. Id. at ¶ 1; Record Doc. No. 4 at p. 1.

         Plaintiff contends that she became disabled and ceased work on December 31, 2013, and she sought disability benefits on April 2, 2014. Record Doc. Nos. 1 at ¶¶ 8 and 9 and 16-2 at p. 2. Defendant denied her claim on October 3, 2014. Id. at ¶ 16 and p. 2. Plaintiff appealed Unum's decision, and Unum denied her appeal on May 29, 2015 and July 20, 2015. Record Doc. No. 16-2 at p. 2. She then filed this action against the plan on September 22, 2017, under 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, requesting that this court declare her entitled to benefits under the plan. Record Doc. No. 1 at p. 5.

         On January 22, 2018, plaintiff propounded interrogatories, requests for admission and requests for production of documents on defendant. Plaintiff requested that defendant produce evidence “pertaining to the extent of [Unum's] conflict of interest as both underwriter and claims administrator of her Long Term Disability Insurance Plan (the “Plan”).” Record Doc. No. 16-4 at p. 1. Defendant responded on February 21, 2018, and objected to plaintiff's requests as vague, ambiguous, overbroad, compound, burdensome, irrelevant, invasive of the rights of individual employees or other insureds and protected attorney-client privilege or work product. Record Doc. Nos. 16-2 at p. 1 and 16-5 at pp. 1-2.

         Plaintiff moved to compel on May 27, 2018. Record Doc. No. 16. Plaintiff's original motion papers were substantially unhelpful to the court because they took a blunderbus approach to the relief plaintiff sought. Specifically, her original memorandum in support of the motion identified alleged deficiencies only in defendant's responses to Interrogatories Nos. 2, 8, 9, 10, 17 and 18; Requests for Production Nos. 3, 4 and 8 and Requests for Admission Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5.[1]

         On April 9, 2018, defendant filed its opposition memorandum, principally arguing that plaintiff is not entitled to the requested discovery because the administrative record is sufficient for the court to determine whether and the extent to which Unum's conflict of interest improperly influenced plaintiff's benefits decision. Record Doc. No. 24.

         In addition, defendant supplemented its responses to the discovery requests on April 6, 2018, and attached its supplemental responses to its opposition memorandum. Record Doc. No. 24-1 at p. 47. Plaintiff filed a reply to defendant's opposition memorandum on April 10, 2018, in which she asserts that Unum's supplemental responses remain deficient. Record Doc. No. 27. It was only in the reply memorandum that plaintiff specifically identified additional discovery responses she alleges are deficient. The court will address only those responses specifically identified as allegedly deficient in plaintiff's supporting and reply briefs and deems waived any deficiency argument as to requests not so identified.[2]


         Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) states in pertinent part that “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case . . . . Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Limitations on discovery include those set out in Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C), including that the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by the Rules if it determines that “(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; (ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(i) and (ii).

         Discovery is further limited in ERISA cases. As outlined by this court in a recent case, binding United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit precedent provides that

[w]ith respect to ERISA actions brought under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a), courts are charged with monitoring discovery “closely” because review is “essentially analogous to a review of an administrative agency decision.” Crosby v. La. Health Servs. & Indem. Co., 647 F.3d 258, 264 (5th Cir. 2011). As such, discovery is disallowed where it would constitute reconsideration of the administrative record and whether coverage should have ultimately been afforded. Vega v. Nat'l Life Ins. Servs., Inc., 188 F.3d 287, 299-300 (5th Cir. 1999), abrogated on other grounds by Met. Life Ins. Co. v. Glenn, 554 U.S. 105 (2008). However, this prohibition does not extend to other questions which may arise in an ERISA action, such as “(1) the completeness of the administrative record; (2) the plan administrator's compliance with ERISA's procedural regulations; and (3) []the existence and extent of a conflict of interest created by a plan administrator's dual role in making benefits determinations and funding the plan.” Crosby, 647 F.3d at 263 (emphasis added).

Fluitt v. Mut. of Omaha Ins. Co., No. 12-2800, 2013 WL 3930090, at *2 (E.D. La. July 26, 2013) (Roby, M.J.). In addition,

[e]vidence is irrelevant to the validity of the decision regarding coverage under the plan unless it “is in the administrative record, relates to how the administrator has interpreted the plan in the past, or would assist the court in understanding medical terms and procedures.” Crosby, 647 F.3d at 263. The district court hewed carefully to this limitation, striking offending portions and admitting only ...

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