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S.D. Fla.- Depression v. Criminal Conviction

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  • S.D. Fla.- Depression v. Criminal Conviction

    In a procedurally boring but contextually interesting case out of Florida, a former attorney filed for long term disability benefits claiming that he suffered from serious mental health issues that rendered him unable to keep practicing law. The Defendant initially granted benefits, and paid for the full 24 months due under the Mental health provisions of the policy. Plaintiff appealed the denial and this suit eventually followed. During the course of the suit, the Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, alleging that the Plaintiff was not disabled due to depression or any other ailment, but rather that he was forced to stop working due to a criminal conviction and subsequent disbarment.

    Defendant argues that before Plaintiff stopped working due to his disability, he signed a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland agreeing to plead guilty to a felony for which he was disbarred. Plaintiff then pleaded guilty on October 11, 2012, more than two months before he filed a claim for benefits, and more than five months before he was eligible under the Policy to receive benefits. In sum, Defendant argues that Plaintiff was unable to work due to his criminal conviction and disbarment, not due to his depression or any other ailment. Defendant paid Plaintiff long term disability benefits for two years, the maximum allowed for mental illness. Plaintiff sues to recover more benefits for other ailments, but Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot establish that he was unable to perform the material and substantial duties of his regular occupation due to illness or injury, a requirement of the Policy. Instead, Defendant argues, Plaintiff was unable to perform his work as an attorney because he was convicted of crimes and disbarred. Therefore, Defendant argues, Plaintiff did not meet the definition of disability in the Policy, and his claims fail as a matter of law.
    Defendant argues that Plaintiff signed a plea agreement on August 27, 2012, entered a guilty plea on October 11, 2012, and filed his claim for benefits on December 12, 2012, with disability beginning on September 18, 2012.
    These facts do not exist within the four corners of the Complaint. Even if the Court were to accept those facts, there is no showing, at this stage of the proceedings, that the guilty plea necessarily prevented Plaintiff from working as a trial lawyer.3 It appears that Plaintiff was sentenced to four (4) years in prison on August 9, 2016. Apparently, he has recently been released on supervised release. The California disbarment did not happen until 2018. It has not been shown, at this juncture, that Plaintiff was ineligible to perform the material and substantial duties of his regular occupation. Certainly it would have been difficult for Plaintiff to be a trial lawyer while in federal prison. Additionally, there would be an issue whether imprisonment during the disability also cuts off benefits. At this stage in the proceedings, the Court does not reach a determination on the issues concerning Plaintiff’s conviction and disbarment and how those circumstances impacted his eligibility to receive benefits under the Policy.
    While the Court does not choose to make a determination regarding the Plaintiff's conviction and disbarment, it did reach the conclusion that the action was time barred. As such, the Court granted Defendant's motion and dismissed the case.
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