The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.
Granting Summary Judgment to the Defendants on Count 3 [Nos. 48,
53, 55-1]; Declining Supplemental Jurisdiction over Count 6;
Dismissing without Prejudice Motions for Summary Judgment on
Count 6 [Nos. 55-2, 60]
This matter comes before the court on the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment on the plaintiff's two remaining
claims: count 3, which asserts a claim against both defendants
under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001-1461; and count 6, which asserts
a claim for misrepresentation under District of Columbia law
against defendant Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie
Mae") alone. In the course of the plaintiff Jane Fitts's motion
for summary judgment on count 3, Ms. Fitts effectively asks the
court to reconsider certain rulings from its
March 29, 1999 Memorandum Opinion. For the reasons which follow,
the court adheres to its prior rulings, and it will grant the
defendants summary judgment on count 3.*fn1 In addition, the
court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over count
6. Therefore, the court will dismiss the cross-motions for summary
judgment on count 6 without prejudice to the plaintiff's right to
file in D.C. Superior Court.
The plaintiff worked as an attorney for Fannie Mae, a federal
corporation, until 1995, when her bi-polar disorder caused her to
become disabled. See Compl. ¶¶ 4, 17. Under Fannie Mae's
long-term disability plan, physically disabled persons receive
benefits until age 65, whereas mentally disabled persons receive
benefits for up to 24 months. See Compl. ¶¶ 15, 20.
When the plaintiff became disabled she applied for and received
short-term benefits. See Compl. ¶ 18. Upon the termination of
short-term benefits she applied for and received long-term
benefits. See id. ¶ 19. Shortly thereafter, Unum notified the
plaintiff that her benefits would end after 24 months, because
bi-polar disorder is a mental disorder subject to the 24-month
limitation on benefits for such disorders. See id. ¶ 20. The
plaintiff protested the termination of benefits to both
defendants, but they declined to re-classify her disorder as a
"physical" disability. See id. ¶¶ 21, 22. Ms. Fitts's benefits
terminated after 24 months. Subsequently, she filed the instant
action. See id. ¶ 1.
By Memorandum Opinion and Order issued March 29, 1999, this
court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss Counts 1, 2, 4
and 5 with prejudice: Counts 1 and 2 asserted claims under the
Americans with Disabilities Act; Count 4 asserted a claim under
the D.C. Human Rights Act; and Count 5 claimed breach of
contractual and common-law duties. The court also denied the
plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on count 3, her
ERISA claim. Lastly, as to count 3 the court struck the
plaintiff's request for a jury trial and damages.
By order dated May 7, 1999 this court stayed all discovery
pending resolution of the cross-motions for summary judgment on
A. Legal Standard: Motion for Summary Judgment
The district court may enter summary judgment where the moving
party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material
fact in dispute and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Once the moving party has
presented a properly supported motion, the nonmoving party must
go beyond the pleadings to identify evidence that would allow a
reasonable jury to find in the nonmovant's favor. See Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Drawing from affidavits, depositions and
answers to interrogatories, the nonmovant must identify specific
facts indicating that a genuine issue exists for trial. See
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91
L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Moreover, at the summary-judgment stage it is
not the court's function to weigh the evidence; rather, the court
must determine whether sufficient evidence exists for a
reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in the nonmovant's
favor and warrant a trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106
a. The Standard of Review for ERISA Determinations: "Arbitrary
and Capricious" or De Novo?
In the March 29, 1999 Memorandum Opinion, this court held that
the defendants' classification of Ms. Fitts's disability is
properly reviewed under the deferential "arbitrary and
capricious" standard of review. See Fitts v. Federal Nat. Mortg.
Ass'n, 44 F. Supp.2d 317 (D.D.C. 1999). Ms. Fitts urges the court
to reconsider and adopt a de novo standard of review. See Pl.'s
Mot. for Summ.J. on Count 3 at 1-6. For the reasons which follow,
the court adheres to its prior ruling that the defendants'
classification of Ms. Fitts's disability is properly reviewed
under the "arbitrary and capricious" standard.
i. Reviewing and Elaborating on Prior Holding that Unum had
Discretion under Plan and Policy
The Supreme Court has held that when a plan participant
challenges the denial of benefits under ERISA, the court must
review the denial de novo unless the benefit plan gives the plan
administrator or fiduciary some discretion to determine
eligibility for benefits or to construe the terms of the plan.
See Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115,
109 S.Ct. 948, 103 L.Ed.2d 80 (1989).
To determine whether an ERISA benefit plan confers discretion,
the court first reviews the plan documents themselves. See Block
v. Pitney Bowes, Inc., 952 F.2d 1450, 1453-54 (D.C.Cir. 1992).
"(I)t . . . need only appear on the face of the plan documents
that the fiduciary has been given (the) power to construe
disputed or doubtful terms — or to resolve disputes over
benefits eligibility — in which case the trustee's
interpretation will not be disturbed if reasonable." Pitney
Bowes, 952 F.2d at 1453-54 (citation omitted). In determining
whether the decisionmaker had discretion, this court considers
"the provisions of the [plan] as interpreted in light of all the
circumstances and such other evidence of the intention of the
[plan's creator] with respect to the [plan] as is not
inadmissible." Heasley v. Belden & Blake Corp., 2 F.3d 1249, 1256
(3d Cir. 1993) (quoting Firestone, 489 U.S. at 112, 109 S.Ct.
In Firestone the defendant, Firestone Tire Company
("Firestone"), sold five of its plants. See Firestone, 489 U.S.
at 105, 109 S.Ct. 948. The plaintiffs, Firestone employees,
applied for severance benefits under Firestone's termination pay
plan. See id. at 105, 109 S.Ct. 948. Firestone denied termination
benefits on the ground that the sale of the plants did not
constitute a "reduction in work force" within the meaning of the
plan. See id. The Court ruled that Firestone did not exercise
discretionary authority because the plan did not indicate that
Firestone had the power to construe uncertain terms or that
eligibility determinations were to be given deference. See id. at
111, 109 S.Ct. 948.
This court previously concluded that, unlike the plan in
Firestone, the plan in the instant case grants discretionary
authority to the party administering claims under the plan. The
court began by noting that Section 7.01 provides that the Fannie
Mae Benefit Plans Committee ("Committee") shall have general
responsibility for the administration and interpretation of the
Plan. See Esposito Dec. dated May 6, 1999, Ex. 1 ("General Rules
and Regulations Governing the Federal National Mortgage
Association Flexible Benefits Plan") ("the Plan"); see Plan §
2.01(o). One of those responsibilities is determining employees'
eligibility for the Plan. See § 7.02, Plan at 15; Block, 952
F.2d at 1452 (administrator had discretion where plan gave it
power "to determine all questions of eligibility and the rights
and status of Participants"); Eley v. Boeing Co., 945 F.2d 276,
278 n. 2 (9th Cir. 1991) (administrator had discretion where plan
provided that "The Company shall determine the eligibility of a
person for benefits under the plan"); Curtis v. Noel,
877 F.2d 159, 161 (1st Cir. 1989) (discretion conferred by language
letting administrators determine "which Employees are eligible to
participate in the Plan").
Moreover, the Plan gives the Committee the right to review the
disposition of claims for benefits. See Plan at 15; cf. Westover
v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 771 F. Supp. 1172, 1174 (M.D.Fla.
1991) (administrator had discretion where plan authorized it to
"make the decision as to whether such service is medically
necessary and [whether the employee] is qualified for benefits
under this Plan").
In addition, this court continues to find it significant that
section 7.01 of the Plan provides that "[a]ll decisions,
interpretations, determinations and other actions of the
Committee shall be final, binding, and conclusive and shall be
afforded the maximum deference allowed by law." See Plan at 15;
see also Block, 952 F.2d at 1452-53 (Plan Committee had
discretion where plan provided that its decisions "shall, to the
extent not inconsistent with the provisions of the Plan, be final
and conclusive and binding upon all persons having an interest in
the Plan"). Finding discretion in such plan language is
consistent with the law of trusts, which the Supreme Court
consulted in its seminal ERISA decision, Firestone. For example,
a decision cited by Firestone found discretionary authority in a
trust agreement providing that "any construction [of the
agreement's provisions] adopted by the Trustees in good faith
shall be binding. . . ." See Central States, Southeast and
Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Central Transport, Inc.,
472 U.S. 559, 568, 105 S.Ct. 2833, 86 L.Ed.2d 447 (1985), quoted ...