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Hogan-Cross v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

July 31, 2008

CINDY HOGAN-CROSS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, ET ANO., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lewis A. Kaplan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This is an action to recover benefits under an ERISA plan from defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife"). Plaintiff moved to compel discovery. As often has been the case, the defendants resisted any material disclosure, contending that review of its termination of benefits is measured by the arbitrary and capricious standard and, moreover, that such review is confined to the administrative file. To the extremely limited extent that MetLife addressed the relevance of particular discovery requests,*fn1 it contended only that interrogatories 14 and 15 and document request 14 were "mainly irrelevant to 'exploring' conflict of interest" and passed quickly to its contention that plaintiff had failed to show that the administrative record was inadequate for the purpose of determining "how a conflict of interest actually influenced MetLife's claim determination." By order dated July 3, 2008, the Court granted plaintiff's motion to compel in significant measure. MetLife now moves for reconsideration of that ruling in significant measure.

Timeliness

MetLife first sought reconsideration by electronically filing, on July 18, 2008, a letter seeking that relief. But Section 13.1 of this Court's Electronic Case Filing Rules and Instructions prohibits the electronic filing of letters. Accordingly, the Clerk rejected the letter. On July 21, 2008, MetLife filed the motion to reconsider that now is before the Court.

S.D.N.Y. Civ. R. 6.3 requires that a motion for reconsideration be filed no later than 10 days after the date of entry of the order in question. As the period in question is less than 11 days, the July Fourth holiday and intervening weekend days are excluded.*fn2 Accordingly, the last day on which to file a motion for reconsideration was July 18, 2008. While defendants attempted to file on that date, their filing was ineffective in light of the fact that the Clerk properly rejected the filing because it contravened the rules.

The prohibition of the electronic filing of letters is a carefully considered policy of this Court that serves important purposes. Such communications often are erroneously docketed as motions (although that was not the case here), thus creating difficulties for the Court's ability to track and account for motions. They also burden the docket and the associated electronic storage facilities with unnecessary material. Moreover, the prohibition on electronic filing of letters has been well publicized to the Bar for years, as it appears in written materials disseminated by the Clerk's Office and has been posted on the Court's web site for a long time. Accordingly, the Court is reluctant to relieve MetLife of the consequences of missing the deadline as a result of its failure to comply with such a well-publicized policy. Nonetheless, the Court will treat the present motion as timely notwithstanding this failure in this instance. It will not do so in the future for MetLife or for its attorneys, whether in this or other cases.

The Standard

Relief is available under Local Civil Rule 6.3 only if the movant demonstrates that the "'Court overlooked controlling decisions or factual matters that were put before the Court on the underlying motion.'"*fn3 Such a motion "'may not advance new facts, issues or arguments not previously presented to the court.'"*fn4 Indeed, as our former Chief Judge Mukasey has written, a party seeking reconsideration "is not supposed to treat the court's initial decision as the opening of a dialogue in which that party may then use such a motion to advance new theories or adduce new evidence in response to the court's rulings."*fn5

Discussion

1. MetLife first disputes the ruling with respect to document requests 14 and 28-30, interrogatories 14-16, and deposition topics 4 and 6 on the grounds that the time period covered is overbroad and that they do not seek relevant information because "they have nothing to do with conflict of interest."

As an initial matter, the Court declines to reconsider either the time period or other aspects of its ruling on these requests save that part which related to document request 14 and interrogatories 14 and 15 because the arguments now made were not advanced in MetLife's opposition to the motion to compel. MetLife's only objection to the other discovery requests was the bald assertion that depositions and broad discovery inquiries are not permitted "when there is no evidence in the administrative record of any actual conflict."*fn6 Having declined to challenge on the original motion the relevance of plaintiff's specific requests if, contrary to its argument, discovery is permissible even assuming there is no evidence in the administrative record of any conflict, MetLife will not be heard to do so now. In any case, even if the Court were disposed to entertain reargument as to these requests, MetLife would fare no better.

In Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Glenn,*fn7 the Supreme Court held that "a plan administrator [that] both evaluates claims for benefits and pays benefits" -- precisely MetLife's position here -- has a conflict of interest for ERISA purposes.*fn8 It further made clear that the existence of such a conflict is a factor to be weighed by a court when reviewing the denial of benefits, the significance of which will vary depending upon other circumstances.*fn9 Moreover, the Court made clear its view that it is neither "necessary [n]or desirable for courts to create special burden-of-proof rules, or other special procedural or evidentiary rules, focused narrowly upon the evaluator/payor conflict."*fn10 Accordingly, MetLife's notion that discovery is inappropriate in this case because "there is no evidence in the administrative record of any actual conflict," a dubious proposition to begin with before Glenn,*fn11 is misguided. The question here, as in all cases, is whether the discovery sought is relevant in itself or "appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."*fn12

The requests at issue here seek evidence concerning approval and termination rates for IBM long term disability claims and statistics regarding long term disability claims administered by MetLife in litigation. To be sure, evidence of high rates of denial and termination of claims, in and of themselves, would prove little or nothing. High rates of denial might reflect only that high proportions of such claims were not meritorious. High rates of termination might reflect only that high proportions of persons who initially were granted disability benefits improved over time and ceased to be eligible for benefits. But that is not to say that evidence of rates of claim denials and benefit terminations would not be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Evidence of high rates of benefit denials or terminations reasonably could lead to further inquiry as to the reasons for those actions, which might prove either benign or malignant. Accordingly, even if the Court were to grant reconsideration with respect to these requests, it would adhere to its former decision.

2. MetLife next challenges the ruling insofar as it applied to document request 12 and interrogatories 5, 6, and 17. Broadly speaking, those requests, to the extent enforced by the Court, seek information regarding the compensation of "persons involved in evaluating, advising upon, or determining plaintiff's eligibility for ...


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