Gessling v. Group LTD Plan for Employees of Sprint/United Management Co.

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Gessling v. Group Long Term Disability Plan for Employees of Sprint/United Management Co., 2008 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 96623 (S.D.Ind. November 26, 2008)(Issue: Discovery). Following a hearing held to consider the effect of Metro.Life Ins.Co. v. Glenn, 128 S.Ct. 2343 (2008) on the availability of discovery in ERISA claims, the court issued this short, but thoughtful opinion. The court began by acknowledging that Glenn was "not a case about discovery," but the court also noted that Glenn found a court's consideration of an insurer's conflict of interest in an ERISA claim is more important "where circumstances suggest a higher likelihood that it affected the benefits decision, including, but not limited to, cases where an insurance company administrator has a history of biased claims administration." (128 S.Ct. at 2351). However, the conflict would be deemed less important "where the administrator has taken active steps to reduce potential bias and to promote accuracy, for example, by walling off claims administrators from those interested in firm finances, or by imposing management checks that penalize inaccurate decision-making irrespective of whom the inaccuracy benefits." (Id.) *2.

The court found such considerations "relevant," and pointed out that evidence relating to such issues are "unlikely to appear in sufficient detail in the administrative record." *3. Thus, since the information is relevant, "it needs to be discoverable." Id. Consequently, the court ruled that prior Seventh Circuit decisions such as Semien v. Life Ins. Co. of North America, 436 F.3d 805, 815 (7th Cir. 2006), which made discovery in ERISA cases "nearly impossible to obtain," (Id.), "appear to be superseded." Id. Hence, the court allowed discovery to proceed, although it cautioned against "blunderbuss" discovery. Also see, Horton v. Liberty Life Assur. Co., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96840 (N.D.Cal. November 12, 2008)(allowing discovery as to conflict).

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