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Smith v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co.

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

December 13, 2019

JENNIFER LEE SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DANNY C. REEVES, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jennifer Smith has filed a second motion to compel responses to interrogatories and requests for production served on Defendant Hartford Life Insurance and Accident Insurance Company (“Hartford”). [Record No. 42');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2] Smith&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s motion also asks the Court to compel the deposition of Renae Fortson. Id. Hartford responded to the motion on November 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">27, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019, contesting the plaintiff&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s ability to obtain further discovery responses. [Record No. 43');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3] Smith&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s reply brief was filed December 11, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019. [Record No. 44]

         The Court has conducted a thorough review of applicable caselaw and finds that supplementary responses to Interrogatory Nos. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2-4 and Document Request Nos. 1 and 5 are appropriate. However, such supplementary responses shall be limited in scope. No further discovery is warranted regarding Interrogatory No. 5, Document Request Nos. 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3 and 4, or the request to compel Fortson&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s deposition. Accordingly, Smith&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s motion will be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

         I.

         Smith enrolled in a Group Long Term Disability Policy (“the Plan”) issued by Continental Casualty Insurance (“Continental”) while working for Countrywide Financial Corporation (“Countrywide”). [Record No. 18');">18');">18');">18, pp. 5-79] Although Countrywide was technically the “plan administrator, ” Continental administered and paid claims under the Plan. Id. at p. 49');">p. 49.

         Smith ceased working for Countrywide in January 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2001 due to mounting health problems and filed a claim for disability benefits. [Record Nos. 1, p. 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3 and 18');">18');">18');">18, p. 156');">p. 156] After several years of litigation regarding Smith&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s claim, see Smith v. Cont&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;l Cas. Co., 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3d 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">253');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">450 F.3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3d 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">253');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3 (6th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2006), Hartford inherited Continental&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s rights and obligations under the Plan. [Record Nos. 1 and 8] Hartford began paying Smith retroactive as well as prospective long-term disability (“LTD”) benefits in June 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2007. [Record No. 18');">18');">18');">18, pp. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2-3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3] Fortson, a Senior Ability Analyst at Hartford, denied this same LTD claim on April 6, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2018');">18');">18');">18. Id. at pp. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">284-90. Smith filed an administrative appeal, which was denied by Hartford Appeal Specialist Debra McGee on December 4, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2018');">18');">18');">18. Id. at pp. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">299-3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">303');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3. She then filed the present ERISA action on February 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">21, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019. [Record No. 1]

         Hartford filed the administrative record on June 14, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019. [Record No. 18');">18');">18');">18] Smith served most of the discovery requests at issue on August 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019. [Record No. 42');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2-2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2, p. 1] Hartford initially served responses, including objections, on August 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">30, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019. [Record No. 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">30-2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2] After the Court denied Smith&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s first motion to compel without prejudice [Record No. 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39], the parties conferred and Hartford supplemented its initial discovery responses on November 4, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019. [Record No. 42');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2-3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3]

         Smith then filed the pending motion, seeking discovery concerning the following issues and their corresponding August 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019 discovery requests:

(1) information relating to the supervision and monitoring of the claims investigation and the Benefits Administrators making determinations on behalf of The Hartford, Interrog. Nos. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 &amp. 4;
(2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2) information relating to the method for determining compensation of Benefits Administrators, Interrog. Nos. 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3 &amp. 5;
(3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3) policies and procedures relating to: (a) supervision and monitoring of claims investigations and Benefits Administrators; and (b) methods for determining compensation, Doc. Req. No. 1;
(4) employment agreements of Benefits Administrators, Doc. Req. No. 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3;
(5) employee benefits of Benefits Administrators, Doc. Req. No. 4; [and]
(6) reports and statistical data regarding claim approvals and denials by the Benefits Administrators, Doc. Req. No. 5.

[Record No. 42');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2]

         Smith&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s motion also requests that the Court compel the deposition of Renae Fortson. Id. Smith did not notice the deposition prior to the Scheduling Order&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s August 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019, deadline to serve proposed discovery. [Record Nos. 17, p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 and 42');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2-4] Instead, she requested a deposition of Fortson “or, if Ms. Fortson was not the principal decision-maker in the decision to deny Ms. Smith&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s LTD benefits, the deposition of the individual identified in The Hartford&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s response to Plaintiff&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s interrogatory No. 1, ” in an August 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">27, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019 email. [Record No. 42');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2-4]

         II.

         It is well-established that, generally, a court reviewing an ERISA claim solely considers the administrative record. Wilkins v. Baptist Healthcare System, Inc., 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3d 609');">150 F.3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3d 609, 619 (6th Cir. 1998). However, “[t]he district court may consider evidence outside of the administrative record only if that evidence is offered in support of a procedural challenge to the administrator&#3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">39;s decision, such as an alleged lack of due process afforded by the administrator or alleged bias on its part.” Id. Further, “an inherent conflict of interest arises, ” when a single entity evaluates pending claims for benefits and pays those it approves. Cox v. Standard Ins. Co., 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3d 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">295');">585 F.3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3d 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">295, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">299 (6th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2009) (citing Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Glenn, 554 U.S. 105, 108 (2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2008)). “[T]he mere presence of a conflict of interest is enough to permit discovery beyond the administrative record.” Aliff v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., No. 5:19-013');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3-DCR, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019 WL 41972');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">211, at *4 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 4, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019) (citing McQueen v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2d 752');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">595 F.Supp.2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2d 752');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2, 754 (E.D. Ky. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2009)) (applying Glenn in the context of discovery). The scope of discovery in such circumstances is necessarily limited to matters related to allegations of bias. Aliff, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2019 WL 41972');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">211, at *1; McQueen, 595 F.Supp. at 755.

         The record evidences, and Hartford concedes, that it administers and pays claims under the Plan. [Record Nos. 8, pp. 3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3');">3, 6 and 18');">18');">18');">18, p. 49');">p. 49] Smith, therefore, is entitled to some discovery outside the administrative record. Discovery is inappropriate, however, if it would be unduly burdensome or its intrusiveness would outweigh any likely benefits (i.e. potential indications of bias). See, e.g., McQueen, 595 F.Supp.2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2d at 756. The Court ...


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