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Hackett v. Standard Insurance Co.

April 14, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeffrey L. VIKEN United States District Judge


This matter is before the court on the plaintiff's second motion to compel discovery. (Docket 69). Defendant filed its memorandum in opposition to plaintiff's second motion to compel discovery. (Docket 71). The court then referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy (Docket 72) for submission of her proposed order in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). Magistrate Judge Duffy issued her order granting in part and denying in part plaintiff's second motion to compel discovery (Docket 74), and defendant filed its objections to the magistrate judge's order. (Docket 77). This matter is before the court for a de novo determination under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).


Ms. Hackett brought suit against Standard Insurance Company ("Standard"), alleging that Standard wrongfully denied her claim for long-term disability benefits under the group disability insurance policy issued to Ms. Hackett's former employer, Mileage Plus, Inc. (Docket 1).

On August 15, 2007, Chief Judge Karen E. Schreier granted summary judgment to defendant. (Docket 56). Chief Judge Schreier applied Woo v. Deluxe Corp., 144 F.3d 1157 (8th Cir. 1998) and held that, although Standard operated under a conflict of interest, the court could not consider the conflict of interest in reviewing the lawfulness of Standard's decision to deny benefits to Ms. Hackett because Ms. Hackett failed to present "evidence to suggest that any potential funding conflict of interest caused a serious breach of a fiduciary duty." (Docket No. 56, quoting Woo, 144 F.3d at 1161-62).

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case for reconsideration of the conflict of interest, citing the intervening decision of the United States Supreme Court in Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Glenn, ___ U.S. ___, 128 S.Ct. 2343 (2008). Hackett v. Standard Ins. Co., 559 F.3d 825, 829 (8th Cir. 2009). The court in Hackett instructed:

Glenn resolved the question of how the conflict should be considered when determining if a plan administrator abused its discretion. Under Woo, if a claimant proved a conflict of interest, he also had to prove a serious breach of the plan administrator's fiduciary duty. If the claimant met the Woo test, the district court would review the administrator's decision using a sliding-scale approach, decreasing the "deference given to the administrator in proportion to the seriousness of the conflict of interest." 144 F.3d at 1161. In Glenn, the Supreme Court made clear the conflict does not change the standard of review applied by the district court. Rather, "a conflict should 'be weighed as a factor in determining whether there is an abuse of discretion.' " Glenn, 128 S.Ct. at 2350 (quoting Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115, 109 S.Ct. 948, 103 L.Ed. 2d 80 (1989) (additional quotation and citation omitted)). Id. at 830.

The court in Hackett provided guidance to the district court for its remand evaluation of Standard's conflict of interest.

The importance of taking Standard's conflict of interest into account is illustrated by the "combination-of-factors method" employed by the Court in Glenn, where the conflict serves "as a tiebreaker when the other factors are closely balanced" and is "more important . . . where circumstances suggest a higher likelihood that it affected the benefits decision" and "less important . . . where the administrator has taken active steps to reduce potential bias and to promote accuracy." [Glenn] at 2351. In Glenn, the [Supreme] Court concluded the conflict took on even greater significance because, as in this case, the insurer 1) encouraged the claimant to apply for social security disability benefits, and then disregarded the Social Security Administration's finding she could do no work, and 2) emphasized medical records which supported a denial of benefits over records suggesting a contrary conclusion. Id. at 2352.

Id. (emphasis added).

Following remand, plaintiff served on defendant a second set of interrogatories and request for production of documents. Defendant's answers/responses (Docket 69-2) prompted plaintiff's second motion to compel discovery. Defendant's objections are essentially that discovery has closed and that the remand to the district court was only to allow the court to consider the administrative record in light of Glenn. (Docket 69-2, Answer 1).

The decision of Magistrate Judge Duffy to allow limited discovery by plaintiff prompted defendant's objections (Docket 77), which can be summarized by the subsections of defendant's objections:

1. The Magistrate Ignored the Posture of the Case in Ordering Discovery.

2. The Requested Discovery is Cumulative and Irrelevant Given the Presumed Conflict.

3. The Burden of the Requested Discovery Outweighs the Potential Benefit.

Id. Each of those objections will be addressed with the same captions.


Defendant asserts the Eighth Circuit did not indicate an intent to allow additional discovery and plaintiff did not bring on before the district court a motion to reopen discovery. (Docket 77, p. 3). Thus, according to the defendant, Magistrate Judge Duffy erred in allowing plaintiff's discovery to continue. Id. However, defendant's objections fail to acknowledge the issuance of an order setting deadlines (Docket 75) entered by ...

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