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Burpo v. Northern Trust Co.

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

October 10, 2013

THOMAS L. BURPO, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHERN TRUST COMPANY and NEWPAGE CORPORATION, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THOMAS B. RUSSELL, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Northern Trust Company's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 11). Plaintiff has responded (Docket No. 16). Defendants have submitted a Brief Supporting Entry of Judgment Affirming the Plan Administrator's Decision (Docket No. 12). Plaintiff has replied (Docket No. 17). The matter also comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Thomas L. Burpo's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (Docket No. 13), to which Defendants have responded (Docket No. 19). This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons that follow, judgment is entered for Defendant. Plaintiff's claim is accordingly dismissed.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Thomas L. Burpo ("Burpo") brings this action against Defendants NewPage Corporation ("NewPage") and Northern Trust Company ("Northern Trust") under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 24 U.S.C. ยง 1001, et seq. ("ERISA"). Burpo, by virtue of his employment at NewPage, was covered under Wickliffe Paper Company's Retirement Plan for Bargaining Hourly Employees, which included long-term disability ("LTD") benefits. He alleges that a variety of health issues, largely stemming from a back injury, prevented him from performing his essential duties at NewPage and caused him to apply for LTD benefits (Docket No. 10-4 at 52-53). Burpo's claim for pension disability was submitted to the Disability Claims Administrator, Sedgwick CMS ("Sedgwick") (Id.).

After navigating the administrative process, Burpo's application was denied because he was deemed not "permanently and totally disabled" under the Plan. He now sues NewPage to recover past and future benefits and attorney's fees. Burpo has also sued Northern Trust Company, a trustee of the Plan. Notably, he has not included the Plan itself in this lawsuit.[1]

I. Burpo's physical condition and ability to work

a. Relevant plan terms

The NewPage Retirement Plan provides that a claimant may receive disability pension benefits only if he is "totally and permanently disabled." (Docket No. 10-2 at 25-26.) A claimant will be considered "totally and permanently disabled" for the purposes of the Plan:

if, and only if, he proves, under the uniform procedures established by the Administrator, that:
(i) he is disabled by bodily injury or disease so as to be prevented from engaging in any employment;
(ii) such disability commenced while working for an Employer or Affiliate;
(iii) such disability will be permanent and continuous during the remainder of his life;
(iv) such disability was not contracted, suffered or received while he was engaged in, and did not result from his having engaged in, a felonious criminal enterprise;
(v) such disability was not the result of an intentionally self-inflicted injury; and
(vi) such disability is not one resulting from military service for which he receives disability benefits from the United States Government or any department or agency thereof.

(Docket No. 10-2 at 13) (emphasis added).

b. Burpo's treating physicians and medical records

In weighing Burpo's claim, Sedgwick CMS considered medical records from Dr. David Zetter, Dr. Mark Crawford, and Neurological Associates of ...


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