United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. HAMILTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Lapidus' Motion
to Compel Defendant Life Insurance Company of North America
(“LINA”) to produce a Rule 30(b)(6) witness to
testify as to LINA's determination that the Plaintiff was
disabled and eligible for Long-Term Disability
(“LTD”) benefits, and the facts on which that
determination was based upon; the later determination that
the Plaintiff was disabled but not eligible for LTD benefits;
and the final determination that the Plaintiff was not
disabled and not eligible for LTD benefits. (ECF No. 16). The
matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition.
case the Plaintiff brings an action for the denial of LTD
benefits under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §§1132(a)(1)(B) and
1133. (Am. Compl. ECF No. 7, ¶ 1). Plaintiff received an
LTD policy through her employer. Id. Defendant LINA
is the named fiduciary for deciding benefit claims under that
policy and any appeals of denied claims. (ECF No. 16, at 2).
Defendant is also responsible for payments under the policy.
2002, Plaintiff ruptured two discs in her lumbar spine. (ECF
No. 7, ¶ 18). In January of 2016, the Plaintiff had
spinal fusion surgery Id. ¶¶ 18-22.
Plaintiff received short-term disability (“STD”)
benefits until July 2016 and applied for LTD benefits.
Id. ¶ 28. On August 18, 2017, Defendant sent
the Plaintiff a letter approving her LTD benefits. (ECF No.
16-1). Plaintiff's date of disability according to the
August 18, 2016, letter was January 18, 2016, and benefits
would commence July 14, 2016, after an elimination period of
180 days. Id.
September 20, 2016, Defendant sent the Plaintiff an
additional letter. (ECF No. 16-2). Defendant's letter
indicated that the Defendant had been notified that the
Plaintiff returned to work part-time but was receiving
fulltime pay, therefore benefits were not payable.
Id. After receiving this letter the Plaintiff
renewed her claim for LTD benefits. On December 1, 2016, the
Defendant sent the Plaintiff a letter denying her claim
because “[t]he medical [sic] on file does not support a
significant level of functional deficits that would preclude
you from returning to your occupation[.]” (ECF No.
16-3). The Plaintiff appealed the denial of her claims twice.
Defendant denied the appeals.
Parties have agreed to and engaged in limited discovery in
this case. Defendant LINA has produced its administrative
record, and has responded to written discovery which included
information regarding Defendant's role as both claims
administrator and underwriter, and guidelines on how to
maintain files. Plaintiff alleges that the administrative
record contains no documentation of Defendant's reasons
for initially approving the Plaintiff's benefits claim in
August of 2016. Plaintiff points to the Defendant's
policy for documenting claims decisions to show that the lack
of documentation in the administrative record is a procedural
irregularity. (ECF No. 16). Defendant agreed to make a
witness available to the Plaintiff regarding the lack of
documentation. (ECF No. 16-5). The Parties now disagree with
regard to the Plaintiff's request that the Defendant
produce a Rule 30(b)(6) witness. Defendant argues that the
Plaintiff seeks to go beyond the bounds of discovery proper
in an ERISA case. Additionally, Defendant asserts that they
have complied with Plaintiff's interrogatories.
Rule 30(b)(6), the choice of a representative of the
corporate party is for the corporation, not the party that
noticed the deposition. Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6). A 30(b)(6)
deponent does not give their personal opinion but represents
the corporation on a topic. The Rule 30(b)(6) deposition thus
serves a unique function of being a sworn corporate admission
that is binding on the corporation. A named entity may not
take the position that its documents, responses to
interrogatories, or other written discovery already produced
is an adequate substitute. See, CitiMortgage, Inc., v.
Chicago Bancorp, Inc., 2013 WL 3946116 at *1 (E.D. Mo.
July 31, 2013) (citations omitted). “[T]he requesting
party must reasonably particularize the subject about which
it wishes to inquire.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6).
Permissible Discovery in an ERISA Case
ERISA cases, “a denial of benefits challenged under
§1132(a)(1)(B) is to be reviewed under a de
novo standard unless the benefit plan gives the
administrator or fiduciary discretionary authority to
determine eligibility for benefits or to construe the terms
of the plan.” Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. v.
Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115 (1989). In this case, the
Policy does not grant the Defendant discretionary authority
to decide benefit claims, so the applicable standard of
review is de novo.
general rule is that review is limited to evidence that was
before the administrator, since Congress enacted ERISA to
provide for the quick and inexpensive adjudication of benefit
disputes.” Dapron v. Spire Missouri, Inc.,
2018 WL 3609446 at *4 (E.D. Mo. July 27, 2018)(internal
citations omitted). “[A]dditional 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 courts from becoming
substitute plan administrators.'” Brown v.
Seitz Foods, Inc. Disability Ben. Plan, 140 F.3d 1198,
1200 (8th Cir. 1998)(quoting Cash v. Wal-Mart Group
Health Plan, 107 F.3d 637, 641-42 (8th Cir. 1997)).
“A district court may admit additional evidence in an
ERISA benefit-denial case, however, if the Plaintiff shows
good cause for the district court to do so.” See,
Id.; see also Buzzanga v. Live Ins. Co. of North
America, WL 1141344 at *2(E.D. Mo. March 22,
2010)(noting that ...