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MULLER v. FIRST UNUM LIFE INS. CO.

August 17, 2001

ROBERT E. MULLER AND ANTOINETTE I. MULLER, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
FIRST UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, AND TRUSTEES OF THE NEW YORK HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK STATE GROUP INSURANCE TRUST, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurd, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendants First Unum Life Insurance Company ("Unum") and Trustees of the New York Hospital Association of New York State Group Insurance Trust ("HANYS") each moved for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Plaintiffs opposed Unum's motion.*fn1 Oral argument was heard on April 27, 2001 in Albany, New York. Decision was reserved.

II. FACTS

Plaintiff Robert Muller ("Muller" or "plaintiff") was employed by Albany Medical College and Albany Medical Center (collectively "AMC") as a nurse anesthetist. AMC provided a Group Long Term Disability Plan ("Plan") to its employees. The Plan was issued by Unum to HANYS. HANYS was named in the summary plan description as the policyholder, plan administrator, and agent for service of process.

The Plan paid benefits for persons with a physical disability until the individual reached age 65 (or possibly later, depending on the age of the employee at the onset of the disability). Benefits for individuals suffering disability due to mental, nervous, or emotional disorders, however, were only payable for a maximum of two years.

On January 19, 1994, Muller stopped working due to morphine addiction and clinical depression. He applied for, and received, long term disability benefits beginning on July 18, 1994. On May 23, 1995, Unum ceased payment of benefits, contending that he was no longer disabled. Muller administratively appealed this determination. His appeal was denied and Unum closed Muller's file in October of 1996.

Muller initially commenced an action solely against Unum in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Saratoga, alleging that Unum wrongfully terminated his benefits. On October 3, 1997, Unum removed the action to federal court on the basis that Muller essentially alleged a violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 1001-1461. Plaintiff was granted leave to file an amended complaint to (1) add his wife, Antoinette I. Muller ("Mrs. Muller"), as a plaintiff; (2) add HANYS as a defendant in the ERISA claim; and (3) assert claims against AMC pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101-12213, and the New York State Human Rights Law ("HRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290-301 (McKinney 1993). See Muller v. First Unum Life Ins. Co., 23 F. Supp.2d 231 (N.D.N.Y. 1998).

AMC moved to dismiss the ADA and HRL claims asserted against it, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), or in the alternative, for summary judgment. The motion to dismiss was granted on the grounds that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that he is a "qualified individual with a disability" within the meaning of ADA § 12111(8), and even if he could make such a showing, the ADA does not require equal treatment between individuals with physical and mental disabilities. Muller v. First Unum Life Ins. Co., 90 F. Supp.2d 204 (N.D.N.Y. 2000).

At the same time, HANYS moved to dismiss the ERISA claim against it, or in the alternative, for summary judgment, on the ground that HANYS is not a fiduciary capable of being held liable under ERISA. This motion to dismiss was denied and the motion for summary judgment was denied without prejudice to renew at the conclusion of discovery. See id. HANYS now renews its motion for summary judgment.

Unum's motion for summary judgment contends that Muller has failed to show that he remained disabled after May 23, 1995. Alternatively, it argues that plaintiff's recovery, if any, must be limited to fourteen months, as provided in the Plan. Finally, Unum argues that the plain language of the Plan precludes Mrs. Muller's claim.*fn2

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment must be granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Lang v. Retirement Living Pub. Co., 949 F.2d 576, 580 (2d Cir. 1991). The moving party carries the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir. 1990). Facts, inferences therefrom, and ambiguities must be viewed in a light most ...


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