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LaVigna v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

August 23, 2010

ANGELA LAVIGNA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Angela LaVigna commenced this action against defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, alleging that it violated New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL)*fn1 and the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)*fn2 when it terminated her employment. (See Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 28.) Pending is LaVigna's appeal from Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece's October 13, 2009 Order. (See Dkt. No. 142; see also Oct. 13, 2009 Order, Dkt. No. 137.) Also pending are State Farm's motion for summary judgment, and LaVigna's motion for summary judgment, motion to preclude an affidavit and certain exhibits submitted by State Farm, motion to amend the complaint, and motion to disregard State Farm's March 23, 2010 reply memorandum of law. For the reasons that follow: (1) LaVigna's appeal (Dkt. No. 142) is denied; (2) State Farm's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 154) is granted in part and denied in part; (3) LaVigna's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 153) is denied; (4) LaVigna's motion to preclude (Dkt. No. 162) is denied; (5) LaVigna's motion to amend (Dkt. No. 162) is denied; and (6) LaVigna's motion to disregard (Dkt. No. 170) is denied.

II. Background

A. Factual History

Plaintiff Angela LaVigna began her employment with defendant State Farm on April 14, 1997. (Pl. SMF ¶ 12, Dkt. No. 153:11.) On February 17, 2006, LaVigna took leave from work to undergo surgery with neurosurgeon Dr. Thomas McCormack to alleviate problems related to her lumbar spine and to relieve her corresponding leg and lower back pain. (See id. at ¶¶ 65-67.) At the time, LaVigna held the full-time position of Special Risk Assistant on the Policy, Service, Typist Team in Central Underwriting at State Farm's Ballston Spa Office.

LaVigna returned to work on July 14, 2006, subject to some restrictions recommended by Dr. McCormack, which were accepted by State Farm. (See id. at ¶¶ 69, 71.) Among Dr. McCormack's recommendations were that LaVigna should return to work on a part-time basis initially, and that she could not continuously stand or sit for more than one hour, thereby requiring her to alternate between sitting and standing on an hourly basis. (See LaVigna Aff., Exs. K, L, Dkt. No. 153:13.) On July 21, 2006, Rob Arsenault, a member of the Environmental Health and Safety Department of State Farm's Ballston Spa Office, performed an ergonomics review of LaVigna's workstation to determine whether her workstation, including her desk, chair, keyboard, and monitor, was properly configured to meet her needs and limitations. (See Pl. SMF ¶ 88, Dkt. No. 153:11.) In the review, which was limited to evaluating a person sitting in a chair at a stationary desk, Arsenault noted that he reviewed the adjustable positions available on LaVigna's current chair, discussed use of her foot rest, and requested that a document holder be provided to her. (See LaVigna Aff., Ex. M, Dkt. No. 153:13.) However, LaVigna asserts that this was a garden-variety, non-individualized review in which Arsenault failed to fully inquire about and identify her limitations and symptoms, noting merely neck and shoulder strain. (See Pl. SMF ¶¶ 89-99, Dkt. No. 153:11.) In addition, LaVigna contends that State Farm never performed a follow-up review and never provided a document holder, a new chair, or any additional changes to her workstation. (See id.) However, the parties dispute the extensiveness of Arsenault's review, the nature of LaVigna's complaints and requests during and after the review, and the manner in which State Farm representatives attempted to address her concerns following the July 21 review.

On July 27, 2006, LaVigna increased her daily work hours from four to five, which was the rate she continued to work at until August 2, 2006. (See id. at ¶ 101.) During this time, LaVigna complained to State Farm's representatives, including Arsenault, Amy Monroe, and Beth Speanburg, that her workstation was irritating her condition, that her chair and footrest were not properly configured, and that the chair did not provide adequate lumbar support and could not be adjusted due to a faulty knob. (See id. at ¶¶ 102-15.) In response, on July 28, 2006, LaVigna received a letter from Speanburg, State Farm's Senior Occupational Health Nurse, discussing the ergonomics of her workstation, asking if she is manipulating her chair and using the footrest, and stating that she would look at LaVigna's chair and footrest again on Monday, July 31. (See LaVigna Aff., Ex. N, Dkt. No. 153:13.) However, LaVigna contends that no one ever returned to examine or evaluate her workstation. At the same time, on July 28, State Farm's Human Resources Director, Irene Kestner, informed LaVigna that she would need to return to work without restrictions and on a full-time basis by August 16, 2006-though State Farm contends that this was not the first time LaVigna was so notified. (Compare Pl. SMF at ¶ 122, Dkt. No. 153:11,with Def. Resp. SMF ¶ 122, Dkt. No. 164.) LaVigna further alleges that Speanburg also directed her to take a leave from work. (See Pl. SMF ¶ 120, Dkt. No. 153:11.)

LaVigna took leave from work on August 3, 2006, as per Dr. McCormack's instructions. (See id. at ¶ 39.) Shortly thereafter, on August 16, 2006, State Farm terminated her employment, based on the expiration of illness benefits. (See id. at ¶ 42.)

At the time of LaVigna's termination, State Farm was the administrator of the State Farm Group Long Term Disability Insurance Plan, of which LaVigna was a participant or beneficiary as defined by ERISA. (See id. at ¶¶ 1-2; see also Meyerson Aff., Ex. J, Dkt. No. 153:5.)

B. Procedural History

On August 14, 2007, LaVigna filed suit in New York State Supreme Court, Saratoga County, against State Farm, Life Insurance Company of North America, also known as CIGNA Group Insurance, and Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co., for violations of ERISA, NYSHRL, and the ADA.*fn3 (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1:1; see also Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 28.) On September 13, 2007, the action was removed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York based on federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (See Dkt. No. 1.) CIGNA and Hartford Life were subsequently terminated from the action. (See Dkt. No. 9; Jan. 18, 2008 Text Order.) In addition, LaVigna's ADA claims and the claims contained in Count One of her amended complaint were dismissed. (See Aug. 8, 2008 Order, Dkt. No. 49; see also Aug. 7, 2008 Minute Entry.)

An unnecessarily contentious period of discovery ensued, requiring frequent intervention by the court, the history of which has been told and retold by both Judge Treece and this court on several previous occasions. On June 22, 2009, Judge Treece extended the deadline for expert disclosures and depositions, but held that discovery as to any other matters was concluded and that "no other demand for discovery is allowed ... [and] no further extensions shall be considered." (See June 22, 2009 Order at 2, Dkt. No. 121.) Still, despite her representations that she would not be deposing State Farm's experts, LaVigna served a subpoena duces tecum dated September 16, 2009, on State Farm's attorneys seeking documents that may have been exchanged with State Farm's experts. (See Oct. 13, 2009 Order at 2-3, Dkt. No. 137.) LaVigna's counsel then submitted a letter motion to Judge Treece seeking an order compelling State Farm to comply with the subpoena, alleging that the subpoena was merely prompted by State Farm's failure to comply with LaVigna's November 17, 2008 Notice to Produce. (See Dkt. No. 132.)

In ruling on LaVigna's motion, Judge Treece first found that LaVigna failed to demonstrate either that State Farm's expert notifications and disclosures had been deficient under FED. R. CIV. P. 26 or that State Farm had failed to comply with LaVigna's November 17, 2008 Notice to Produce. (See Oct. 13, 2009 Order at 4-5, Dkt. No. 137.) Judge Treece then denied LaVigna's motion to compel due to her failure to establish good cause to extend the discovery deadline, and granted an order protecting State Farm from the September 16, 2009 subpoena. (See id. at 6-7.) In response, LaVigna appealed Judge Treece's ruling. (See Dkt. No. 142.)

Upon the conclusion of all discovery, the parties filed vying motions for summary judgment. (See Dkt. Nos. 153, 154.) In addition, LaVigna moved to preclude from evidence the affidavit of Christopher Farnum and the exhibits accompanying the affidavit, and moved for permission to amend her complaint. (See Dkt. No. 162.) LaVigna also moved to strike State Farm's reply memorandum of law, contending that since it was filed on March 23, 2010, one day after the March 22, 2010 deadline, it was untimely and should be disregarded. (See Dkt. No. 170.)

III. Discussion

A. Appeal of Judge Treece's Order

When reviewing an appeal from a pretrial non-dispositive motion decided by a magistrate judge, the court will affirm the order unless it is clearly erroneous or contrary to law. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); FED. R. CIV. P. 72(a). This standard governs a district court's review of a magistrate's orders concerning discovery disputes. Thomas E. Hoar, Inc. v. Sara Lee Corp., 900 F.2d 522, 525 (2d Cir. 1990). Under a clearly erroneous standard, a district court can reverse a magistrate judge's order only if the court "is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." See Gualandi v. Adams, 385 F.3d 236, 240 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). Under a contrary to law standard, a district court can reverse a magistrate judge's order only if the order fails to apply the relevant law. See Olais-Castro v. United States, 416 F.2d 1155, 1158 n.8 (9th Cir. 1969) ("The term 'contrary to law' means contrary to any existing law.") (citing Callahan v. United ...


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