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PULLIAM v. CONTINENTAL CASUALTY COMPANY

January 24, 2003

L. DELORES PULLIAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CONTINENTAL CASUALTY COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alan Kay, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before this Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Compel and Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support Thereof ("Motion to Compel") [9] and Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Compel ("Opposition to Motion to Compel") [14]. Also pending before the Court is Continental Casualty Company's Motion for a Protective Order ("Motion for Protective Order") [11], Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for a Protective Order ("Opposition to Motion for Protective Order") [12], and Continental Casualty Company's Reply Memorandum in Further Support of Motion for Protective Order ("Reply") [13]. Because these motions involved closely related issues, the Court will resolve these two motions together in one Memorandum Opinion and Order. For the reasons set forth below, the Court has determined that Plaintiff's Motion to Compel [9] shall be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part and Defendant's Motion for Protective Order [11] shall be DENIED in part and GRANTED in part. An appropriate Order accompanies this

Memorandum Opinion.

I. Background

Plaintiff L. Delores Pulliam filed suit against Continental Casualty Company ("Continental") on February 26, 2002 after her claim for long term disability benefits was denied. Ms. Pulliam worked for more than twenty four years for Guest Services, Inc. and was a participant in Guest Services' long term disability plan administered by Continental. At the end of her employment with Guest Services, Ms. Pulliam was a District Manager, responsible for the operations of twelve food concessions around the Mall in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Pulliam worked on July 4 and 5, 1999 and suffered a stroke on July 6, 1999, a day that she had taken off. Ms. Pulliam notified her employer of the stroke and sought leave, providing certification from her physicians to her employer. After a series of contacts with her employer between the time of the stroke and July 27, 1999, Ms. Pulliam received a letter dated July 28, 1999, notifying her that, under company policy, she was considered to have resigned because of her absence for three consecutive working days without notifying a supervisor. Guest Services further informed Ms. Pulliam that she was terminated and not eligible for any employee benefits. Guest Services would not provide Ms. Pulliam with the claim form or booklet on the long term disability plan.

On June 28, 2000, Ms. Pulliam applied to Continental for long term disability benefits. Continental Casualty denied the claim for benefits and again denied the claim after Ms. Pulliam requested a review of the decision. Continental asserted that Ms. Pulliam was terminated on July 5, 1999 and was therefore not eligible for benefits when the stroke occurred on July 6, 1999.

Ms. Pulliam filed suit against Continental pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq., seeking recovery of benefits allegedly owed under the long term disability policy administered by Continental. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1337 and 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e). This case was referred by Judge Richard W. Roberts to Magistrate Judge Alan Kay for resolution of all discovery disputes on October 10, 2002.

Ms. Pulliam issued interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and requests for admissions to Continental. Continental provided timely responses to these requests. When Plaintiff was not satisfied with the responses, the parties worked to resolve these disagreements and many of the issues were subsequently resolved. The remaining issue that the parties were unable to resolve is the subject of the pending motions. Plaintiff sought discovery regarding a potential conflict of interest by Continental which would result in a heightened standard of review being applied in reviewing the insurer's denial of benefits. Continental objected to interrogatories and requests for production of documents relating to this issue. After being unable to reach an agreement on this matter, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Compel pursuant to Federal Rule 37(a). In addition, pursuant to Federal Rule 26(c)(4), Continental filed the pending Motion for Protective Order prohibiting the Plaintiff from inquiring into this issue during a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition.

II. Analysis

A. Motion to Compel

Under Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,

[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party. . . . For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). This provision was amended in 2000 to narrow the party-controlled scope of discovery by requiring that discovery be relevant, not just to the subject matter of the case, but to the claim or defense of a party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1) advisory committee's note to 2000 amendments. The court still retains the authority to broaden the scope of discovery to inquire into any matter that is relevant to the subject matter of the case. Id.

In the pending Motion to Compel, Plaintiff seeks discovery regarding a possible conflict of interest by Continental. Plaintiff contends that in this ERISA case for recovery of benefits, the court must determine the appropriate standard of review to apply to the administrator's denial of benefits. Motion to Compel at 4. A de novo standard of review applies, unless the plan reserves discretionary authority to the fiduciary to interpret the terms. Id.; Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115 (1989). If the fiduciary is given discretionary authority, then the court applies an abuse of discretion standard of review. Motion to Compel at 4; Firestone, 489 U.S. at 115. If the fiduciary with discretionary authority is operating under a ...


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