The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge
Plaintiff, Edward Westphal, ("Westphal") brings this action against Eastman Kodak Company ("Kodak"), Eastman Kodak Company Long Term Disability Plan, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and MetLife Disability Company ("the defendants") alleging breach of contract and a violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001, et seq., claiming that the defendants have wrongfully denied his application for long term disability benefits. Specifically, the plaintiff seeks to recover benefits dating back to November 27, 2003, which is the alleged onset date of his disability. For determination are competing motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure brought by the parties on October 31, 2005.
In 1979, plaintiff Edward Westphal began working for the defendant Eastman Kodak Company and continually worked for Kodak for over twenty years until December 1, 2003, when he retired due to his disability. Throughout his employment, Westphal was enrolled in an Eastman Kodak Company Profit and Retirement Benefits Plan, ("the Plan") to which he made weekly contributions. Kodak is the Plan Administrator ("Plan Administrator") of the Plan, and by contractual arrangement with the defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and MetLife Disability Company, (collectively "MetLife") which provided assistance with processing claims, the Plan Administrator was granted discretionary authority to administer the Plan.
On June 23, 2003, following consultation with the Eastman Kodak Company's Human Resources Department, the plaintiff was advised that he was eligible for early retirement and separation under the provisions of the Plan due to his disability. Westphal then completed the necessary paperwork to effectuate his separation from employment due to his inability to perform any occupational functions for which he was reasonably fit because of his education, training, or experience. The plaintiff identified the following physical limitations as the basis of his claimed disability: 1) loss of sleep; 2) memory loss; 3) manic depression; 4) Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; 5) angina; and 6) lower back, hip and leg pain. Based on a Kodak Disability Calculation Sheet provided to him by Kodak's Human Relations Department, an estimated disability date was established effective November 27, 2003 and his retirement date was scheduled for December 1, 2003.
On September 25, 2003, as required by the provisions of the Plan, the plaintiff applied for Social Security benefits, specifically, Old Age, Survivor, and Disability Insurance Benefits. The plaintiff was determined by the Social Security Administration to be entitled to Social Security Disability Benefits, based on his medical and psychiatric problems in accordance with Social Security Administration Rules as of June 23, 2003.*fn1
On March 12, 2004, four months after he retired, Westphal was advised by the defendants that his application for long term disability benefits under the Plan had been denied. The plaintiff appealed that decision and on October 19, 2004, the initial denial of benefits was affirmed. On March 31, 2005, the plaintiff commenced this action. On October 31, 2005 both parties moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
I. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is proper when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and...the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, courts must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. See, generally, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
Defendants have moved for summary judgment on grounds that (1) the plaintiff has failed to state a claim under New York common law for breach of contract, and (2) that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to the plaintiff's ERISA claim on grounds that the Plan Administrator's decision to deny disability benefits was not arbitrary and capricious, and therefore must be upheld by this Court. The plaintiff has cross-moved for summary judgment on grounds that the Plan Administrator's decision to deny disability benefits was unreasonable and not supported by substantial evidence under the arbitrary and capricious standard.
II. The Plan Administrator's Benefits Determination is Subject to an 'Arbitrary and Capricious' Standard of Review
The plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated ERISA provisions when they denied his application for long term disability benefits ...