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BLOCK v. PITNEY BOWES INC.

January 3, 1989

RALPH BLOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
PITNEY BOWES INC., et al., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REVERCOMB

 GEORGE H. REVERCOMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 The only remaining issue in this case is a claim under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act *fn1" (ERISA) challenging defendants' decision to deny plaintiff, a former employee of Pitney Bowes, benefits under Pitney Bowes' Long Term Disability Plan ("Plan"). Defendants have moved for summary judgment and plaintiff has opposed the motion. Oral argument was heard on December 8, 1988. The Court grants the motion and enters judgment in favor of defendants.

 I. Facts Not in Dispute

 Plaintiff was employed as an area sales representative for defendant Pitney Bowes Inc. Defendants' Facts para. 6. In his job, he was often required to carry equipment and other sales tools to customers and prospective customers; his job also involved a considerable amount of walking. Facts paras. 7-9. While carrying heavy equipment to a client meeting in Washington, D.C., on October 12, 1983, plaintiff states that he tripped on a sidewalk and fell on his right leg, injuring it. Facts para. 10; Deposition of Plaintiff at 45-46. He suffered a severe hamstring pull and his medical treatment included arthroscopic surgery. Levine Affidavit para. 6.

 Based on information received from Dr. David Johnson, an independent orthopedic surgeon who examined plaintiff, Pitney Bowes' medical director advised the company on March 30, 1984 that plaintiff could return to work with restrictions -- namely "4 hours standing - 4 hours sitting - limited walking." Facts para. 14. Pitney Bowes notified plaintiff on April 6, 1984, that it was placing him on leave of absence because the company did not have a position that would accommodate his medical condition. Facts para. 15.

 Plaintiff applied on April 23, 1984, for benefits under Pitney Bowes' Long Term Disability Plan. The Administrative Committee of the Plan ("Committee") on May 29, 1984 approved plaintiff's application for long term disability benefits because plaintiff was scheduled to undergo surgery. The benefits were to be given retroactively from April 1, 1984, and were to continue until August 31, 1984. Facts para. 17.

 In September 1984, Dr. Johnson sent a report to Pitney Bowes on plaintiff's condition. The report stated, among other findings, that on the job plaintiff could sit for eight hours a day, walk intermittantly for two hours, lift intermittently for four hours, bend intermittently for four hours, but could not squat, climb, or kneel at all. Facts para. 19. Plaintiff was found able to drive on the job and able to work an eight-hour day. Id. The doctor stated that he could not yet determine whether plaintiff was permanently disabled. He also stated, however, that plaintiff could not return to his old job, although he could return to the work force through "selective placement." Id.

 The medical director for the Plan advised the Plan's administrators on September 21, 1984 that Mr. Block be terminated from the Plan because he was not "totally disabled." Facts para. 20. The Committee notified plaintiff on October 1, 1984 that he was no longer eligible for long-term benefits because medical examinations showed he was not "totally disabled" as defined by the Plan and that he could work with certain restrictions. Facts para. 22. Plaintiff also was informed that he was being placed on leave of absence since Pitney Bowes had no jobs available that were suited for him. Facts para. 24.

 Plaintiff appealed the termination of his benefits under the Plan and submitted reports from additional doctors, one of whom stated, among other things, "I don't see how he can be returned to work and I do not forsee that to happen in the future." Defendants' Exhibit 1, attachment 4. The Committee denied his appeal, and later denied a second and third appeal, each on the ground that plaintiff was not eligible for benefits under the Plan because he was not "totally disabled." Facts paras. 27-35.

 On July 25, 1985, Pitney Bowes informed plaintiff that it was terminating his employment as of July 23, 1985, due to the fact "that we cannot accommodate your physical restrictions and your present leave has been extended far beyond the normal considerations." Defendants' Exhibit 4.

 II. The Terms of the Plan

 The only significant issue remaining in this case is whether the Committee properly terminated plaintiff's benefits under the Plan. To be eligible for benefits, an employee must be "Totally Disabled." Plan ยง 5.1. An employee is "totally disabled" if he is


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