United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
E. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on plaintiff's motion for
limited discovery. Defendants have responded in opposition
and the matter is fully briefed.
brings this action under the Employee Income Security Act
(ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., to recover benefits
under an employee welfare benefit plan and insurance program.
The defendants denied plaintiff's claim for ongoing
disability benefits. Plaintiff asks the Court to order
defendants to continue paying her disability benefits.
now seeks to conduct limited discovery outside of the
administrative record in order to determine defendants'
conflict of interest and procedural irregularities pertaining
to the claims review process. Plaintiff specifically seeks:
(1) the Administrative Services Agreement and Step Process
Manuals; (2) a deposition of corporate representative(s); and
(3) a deposition of the records reviewer.
review a denial of benefits under an ERISA plan de
novo unless the plan gives the administrator or
fiduciary discretion to determine eligibility for benefits,
in which case an abuse of discretion standard of review is
used. Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Glenn, 554 U.S. 105,
111 (2008); Green v. Union Security Ins. Co., 646
F.3d 1042, 1050 (8th Cir.2011) (citing Firestone Tire
& Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 111 (1989)). In
conducting its review of a benefits determination, a court is
limited to a review of the evidence that was before the
administrator when the claim for benefits was denied.
Atkins v. Prudential Ins. Co., 404 Fed.App'x 82,
84-85 (8th Cir.2010) (quoting Jones v. ReliaStar,
615 F.3d 941, 945 (8th Cir.2010). For this reason, courts
generally do not allow the parties in ERISA cases to obtain
additional discovery. Atkins, 404 Fed.App'x at
84-85. In essence, “additional evidence gathering is
ruled out on deferential review, and discouraged on de novo
review to ensure expeditious judicial review of ERISA benefit
decisions and to keep district courts from becoming
substitute plan administrators.” Brown v. Seitz
Foods, Inc. Disability Benefits Plan, 140 F.3d 1198,
1200 (8th Cir.1998) (citation omitted).
deferential standard of review of the denial of benefits may
be applied in cases where a claimant has presented
“material, probative evidence demonstrating that (1) a
palpable conflict of interest or a serious procedural
irregularity existed, which (2) caused a serious breach of
the plan administrator's fiduciary duty.” Woo
v. Deluxe Corp., 144 F.3d 1157, 1160 (8th Cir. 1998).
The Supreme Court held that a conflict of interest exists
when the entity that administers the plan “both
determines whether an employee is eligible for benefits and
pays benefits out of its own pocket.” Glenn,
554 U.S. at 108. However, Glenn made it clear that
the presence of a conflict of interest does not entitle the
claimant to de novo review. Wakkinen v. UNUM Life Ins.
Co. of America, 531 F.3d 575, 581 (8th Cir. 2008);
see also Chronister v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of
America, 563 F.3d 773, 775 (8th Cir. 2009) (abuse of
discretion standard remains the appropriate standard for
evaluating plan administrator's decision).
have varied in their assessment of Glenn's
impact on discovery in ERISA cases. Before Glenn,
discovery was not permitted in cases reviewed for abuse of
discretion. Following Glenn, courts in this district
have permitted some discovery in ERISA cases. See,
e.g., Sampson v. Prudential Life Ins. Co. of
America, No. 4:08CV1290 CDP, 2009 WL 882407 (E.D.Mo.
Mar. 26, 2009); Winterbauer v. Life Ins. Co. of No.
America, No. 4:07CV1026 DDN, 2008 WL 4643942 (E.D.Mo.
Oct. 27, 2008). The scope of that discovery, however, has
been limited to determining whether a conflict of interest or
procedural irregularity exists. See, e.g., T.D.E. v. Life
Ins. Co. of No. America, No. 4:07CV1387 CDP, 2009 WL
367701 *4 (E.D.Mo. Feb. 11, 2009) (“Discovery is
required to explore the nature and extent of the purported
conflict or irregularity at issue.”);
Winterbauer, 2008 WL 4643492 at *5-6 (stating
“it seems logical to allow some discovery on issues
related to” the Glenn factors). In addition, the Court
may permit limited discovery only where a plaintiff
demonstrates good cause. Winterbauer, 2008 WL
4643942, at *4.
have agreed to production of the Administrative Services
Agreement and the Ascension Health LTD Step Process Manuals
in effect during the period of plaintiff's claim,
provided they are allowed to redact specific dollar amounts
contained in the Administrative Services Agreement. The Court
will permit the redaction and require defendants to supply
the Administrative Services Agreement and the Ascension
Health LTD Step Process Manuals.
the Court will not permit plaintiff to take a deposition of a
corporate representative because plaintiff has failed to
demonstrate good cause. A deposition of a corporate
representative requires significant time and resources and
plaintiff has not established that a deposition is needed to
establish a conflict of interest in this case. Teresa
Heartsill v. Ascension Health Alliance, et. al., 2017 WL
2955008, at *2 (E.D. Mo. July 11, 2017) (requiring an ERISA
plaintiff seeking limited discovery to demonstrate why the
discovery is necessary to prove their particular theory and
is more than a fishing expedition); see also Schoolman v.
United Healtcare Ins. Co, 2013 WL 6683111, at *2 (E.D.
Mo. Dec. 18, 2013) (denying a request for a deposition of a
corporate representative in an ERISA matter when there was no
material, probative evidence of bias in order to prevent a
also seeks to depose Dr. Dennis Payne to determine the extent
of an alleged procedural irregularity. Plaintiff argues that
defendants' hiring of Dr. Payne and reliance on his
opinion constitutes a procedural irregularity because it
demonstrates the plan administrator's failure to use
judgment. In order to establish a heightened level of review,
a beneficiary claiming procedural irregularity must show that
the plan administrator, in the exercise of its power, acted
dishonestly, acted from an improper motive, or failed to use
judgment in reaching its decision.” LaSalle v.
Mercantile Bancorporation, Inc. Long Term Disability
Plan, 498 F.3d 805, 809 (8th Cir. 2007) (citing
Neumann v. AT & T Comm., Inc., 376 F.3d 773, 781
(8th Cir.2004)). Here, plaintiff does not articulate any
procedural irregularity nor identify any procedural
deficiencies in the engagement of Dr. Payne. She has not
demonstrated how deposing Dr. Payne would show that the plan
administrator committed procedural irregularity. Plaintiff
has provided no material, probative evidence of bias in order
to demonstrate that the deposition would be more than a mere
fishing expedition. Schoolman at *2. Because
plaintiff has been unable to establish that a deposition is
necessary to establish that a procedural irregularity exists
in this matter, the request to depose Dr. Payne will be
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff's motion for limited
discovery [Doc. #28] is granted in part.
FURTHER ORDERED that, within fifteen (15) days of the date of
this order, the defendants shall provide to plaintiff the
Ascension Health LTD Step Process Manuals and a ...