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Plaintiff’s Motion for Discovery Denied – D. Ks.

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  • Plaintiff’s Motion for Discovery Denied – D. Ks.

    Plaintiff’s Motion for Discovery Denied – D. Ks.

    Attached is a case out of the District of Kansas, Hadd v. Aetna Life Insurance Company. The matter is before the court on plaintiff’s motion to perform discovery to include interrogatories, requests for production, and the deposition of three physicians. The court found that plaintiff failed to meet the necessary burden of showing the administrative record to be deficient or the necessity of the discovery.

    …Defendant refers to Plaintiff’s proposed discovery requests “regarding the identity of those individuals who attempted to speak with Dr. Magadan in 2015 and 2016 and notes regarding conversations” with him. (Id. (citing Doc. 15, at 3-5).) Defendant points out that “[c]onsistent with the ERISA’s claim regulations, all such individuals and communications are contained in the administrative record claim notes and documents.” (Id., at 7-8.)

    Defendant also argues that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate the need for the requested depositions of three physicians. Plaintiff’s motion does not specifically argue why the depositions are necessary, but instead obliquely refers to Defendant’s “efforts to improperly influence Dr. Magadan.” (Doc. 15, at 3.) Plaintiff’s motion fails to address or establish how the information contained in the administrative record is insufficient in this regard.

    Plaintiff’s motion infers that discovery regarding a potential conflict of interest should automatically be allowed because Defendant is both the provider and administrator of the plan. The law does not support this. Rather,

    the benefit of allowing detailed discovery related to the administrator’s financial interest in the claim will often be outweighed by its burdens and costs because the inherent dual role conflict makes that financial interest obvious or the substantive evidence supporting denial of a claim is so one-sided that the result would not change even giving full weight to the alleged conflict. Similarly, a district court may be able to evaluate the effect of a conflict of interest on an administrator by examining the thoroughness of the administrator's review, which can be evaluated based on the administrative record. And, without further discovery, a district court may allocate significant weight to a conflict of interest where the record reveals a lack of thoroughness.

    Murphy, 619 F.3d at 1163-64.

    In the matter before the Court, Plaintiff’s claims of improper influence are supported only by her self-serving and conclusory reliance on “information and belief” that Dr. Magadan was harassed into changing his opinion. (Doc. 15, at 2- 3.) She contends that “upon information and belief, the agents of [Defendant], including Dr. Timothy Craven and Dr. Evelyn Balogun, made so many phone calls to Dr. Magadan causing him to believe that they were harassing him because he would not change his opinion on plaintiff’s total disability.” (Id., at 3.) Defendant replies, however, that

    [a]ll communications with Dr. Magadan are documented in the administrative record and can be reviewed without the need for discovery. Discrediting Plaintiff’s argument of ‘improper influence,’ Dr. Magadan’s conflicting opinions are clearly referenced in the administrative record and discussed at length by the reviewing physicians. There is no basis for her request to go beyond the administrative record evidence and conduct three discovery depositions and propound written discovery to address common claims handling practices – all of which are documented in the administrative record.

    (Doc. 21-1, sealed, at 2.)

    Further, the record clearly establishes that Dr. Craven’s left only two voice mail messages for Dr. Magadan, resulting in one telephone call. (Doc. 21-3, at 001971; Doc. 21-5, at 000219, 222.) Dr. Balogun also had only one telephone conference with Dr. Magadan after attempting to contact him at his former employer. (Doc. 21-7, at 001436-37; Doc. 21-6, at 000551.) The Court fails to see how this constitutes “so many phone calls” that the recipient would feel harassed. Plaintiff’s claims of improper influence are unsupported by evidence. Plaintiff’s assertions based upon “information and belief” are insufficient to support a broad expansion of discovery beyond the administrative record, particularly where Plaintiff’s assertions are disproven by the record itself.

    In her reply brief, Plaintiff argues that deposition testimony of Dr. Magadan is necessary to “test the accuracy” of documentation of these conversations in the administrative record. (Doc. 26, at 7-8.) Plaintiff fails, however, to differentiate this documentation from notes that would be contained in the administrative records of virtually every other ERISA case pending in federal courts – the vast majority of which would not allow such depositions. “Testing the accuracy” of documentation in the administrative record is, without more, an insufficient basis to allow discovery in this case. To find otherwise would open the door for discovery in virtually all ERISA cases, thwarting the Act’s goal of ensuring speedy, inexpensive, and efficient resolution of such claims.

    Plaintiff also seeks discovery regarding Defendant’s affirmative defenses. (Doc. 15, at 4-5.) Her initial motion is devoid of any discussion as to why or how this discovery is appropriate. Defendant argues that the discovery requests should be denied “[o]n this basis alone . . . .” (Doc. 21-1, sealed, at 15.) The Court agrees. It is clearly established in this District that arguments raised for the first time in a reply brief are waived. M.D. Mark, Inc. v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 565 F.3d 753, 768 n.7 (10th Cir. 2009).

    Simply stated, Plaintiff’s motion wholly fails to meet the burden to establish why the requested discovery is necessary or how the administrative record is deficient. As such, Plaintiff’s Motion for Discovery (Doc. 15) is DENIED.
    Attached Files