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Wittmann v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 13, 2018

ANNE WITTMANN
v.
UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA

         SECTION "F"

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Anne Wittman's motion for review of the Magistrate Judge's April 23, 2018 Order and Reasons. For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED in part as moot, and GRANTED in part.

         Background

         This discovery dispute arises from a lawsuit challenging the denial of disability benefits under a group benefits plan.

         Anne Wittmann is the beneficiary of a long-term disability insurance plan through her employment as an attorney with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell, Berkowitz PC. Unum Life Insurance Company of America is the administrator of the plan and its underwriter. Wittmann suffers from fibromyalgia, and has not worked regularly since December 31, 2013. Unum denied Wittmann's claim for long-term disability benefits under the plan in 2014, and denied Wittman's administrative appeals in 2015. After the Social Security Administration granted Wittmann disability benefits in 2016, Unum undertook an additional appeal review, and granted Wittman mental illness disability on January 24, 2017.[1]Mental illness benefits are limited to 24 months, but Wittman sought physical disability benefits, which are payable through Wittmann's expected retirement. On September 22, 2017, Wittmann sued Unum for the denial of her claim for physical disability benefits under her long-term disability plan, pursuant to Section 502(a)(1)(B) of Employee Retirement Income Act of 1974. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B).

         On January 22, 2018, Wittmann delivered its First Set of Requests for Admission, Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents to Unum. Unum responded on February 21, 2018, prompting Wittman to file a motion to compel on March 27, 2018 on the grounds that the responses were deficient and raised improper objections. Unum supplemented its responses on April 9, 2018. On April 23, 2018, Magistrate Judge Wilkinson granted Wittmann's motion to compel in part, and denied it in part. On May 7, 2018, Wittmann moved for review of the Magistrate Judge's denial of the motion to compel in respect to Interrogatories Nos. 8 and 9.

         I.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), a party may appeal the ruling of the Magistrate Judge to the District Judge. A Magistrate Judge is afforded broad discretion in the resolution of non-dispositive motions. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 363(b)(1)(A). If a party objects to a Magistrate Judge's ruling on a non-dispositive matter, the Court will disturb a Magistrate's ruling only when the ruling is “clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also Castillo v. Frank, 70 F.3d 382, 385 (5th Cir. 1995). A finding is "clearly erroneous" when the reviewing Court is "left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Stevens, 487 F.3d 232, 240 (5th Cir. 2008)(quoting United States. v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).

         II.

         Wittmann seeks to prove that Unum denied her claim for physical disability in bad faith and in order to advance its interest as underwriter. Accordingly, Wittmann requested information about the participation by lawyers in the administration of her claim. Interrogatory No. 8 stated:

Describe the extent to which your in-house counsel, or any lawyer engaged by or working for you, participated in the administration of Ms. Wittmann's claim. Your answer should include:
a. Whether your counsel assisted in drafting, editing or transmitting any correspondence to Ms. Wittmann;
b. Any input, formal or informal, oral or written, from your counsel regarding the merits of Ms. Wittmann's claim. ...

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