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Card v. Principal Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

May 23, 2017

SUSAN CARD, Plaintiff,
v.
PRINCIPAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Susan Card's motion to enforce a document subpoena (DE 55), motion to stay (DE 56), and motions for extension of time (DE 60; DE 62). For the following reasons, Card's motion to enforce is DENIED, her motion to stay is GRANTED, and motions for extension of time are GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         Card brought suit against Principal Life Insurance Company under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, known simply as ERISA. See 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. Card argues that Principal improperly denied her claim for disability benefits and that Principal operated “under an inherent and structural conflict of interest because any disability benefits provided to Ms. Card are paid from Principal's assets.” (DE 3, Amended Compl. ¶¶ 14, 16).

         Litigation in this case has been contentious, and Card's present motions have been no exception. First, Card seeks to enforce a subpoena directed to MES Peer Review Services, [1] a vendor for Principal. (DE 55). Second, Card asks the Court for a stay while the subpoena issue is being resolved (DE 56). Third, Card has twice requested more time to file her motion for summary judgment. (DE 60; DE 62).

         II. Motion to enforce the third-party subpoena

         As a preliminary matter, the Court will note that its review in an ERISA case is normally limited to the administrative record. See Wilkins v. Baptist Healthcare Sys., Inc., 150 F.3d 609, 615 (6th Cir. 1998). Yet, the Supreme Court has opened the door for discovery in some ERISA cases when the decision maker operates under an inherent conflict of interest. See Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Glenn, 554 U.S. 105, 108 (2008). Still, the amount of discovery the Court will permit in an ERISA case is narrow.

         In Mullins v. Prudential Insurance Co. of America, the Western District of Kentucky delineated these “permitted areas of inquiry”:

• incentive, bonus, or reward programs or systems, formal or informal, for any employee(s) involved in any meaningful way in reviewing disability claims;
• contractual connections between plan administrator/payor and the reviewers used in plaintiffs claim and financial payments paid annually to the reviewers from the administrator/payor;
• statistical data regarding the number of claims files sent to the reviewers and the number of denials that resulted;
• number of times the reviewers found claimants able to work in at least a sedentary occupation or found that claimants were not disabled; and
• documentation of administrative processes designed only to check the accuracy of grants of claims (limited to claims guidelines actually consulted ...

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