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Arabaitzis v. Unum Life Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 11, 2018

ELAINE ARABAITZIS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Elaine Arabaitzis seeks to recover benefits under the Employee Retirement Insurance Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. The Court granted summary judgment for Defendant Unum Life Insurance Company of America, the claims administrator and insurer for her benefits plan. Before the Court is Ms. Arabaitzis's motion for reconsideration of that decision. Ms. Arabaitzis has not shown that she is entitled to relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), particularly given the deferential standard of review appropriate here. The Court will thus deny Ms. Arabaitzis's motion.

         I.

         Ms. Arabaitzis claims that she suffers from “pain, discomfort, fatigue and other related impairments caused by cervical and spinal injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, among other conditions and impairments.” Compl. ¶ 10, ECF No. 1. As a former employee of a law firm, she participated in an employee welfare benefits plan through her employer. Id. ¶ 6. Unum was the claims administrator and insurer for that plan. Id. ¶ 7.

         According to Ms. Arabaitzis, Unum initially approved both her short-term and long-term benefits but then terminated long-term benefits. Id. ¶ 12. Under ERISA, Ms. Arabaitzis seeks (1) reinstatement of benefits and payment of “back benefits” with interest; (2) enforcement of the rights under the plan; (3) clarification of rights to future benefits under the plan; and (4) an award of attorney's fees and costs. Id. ¶ 4.

         The Court referred the case to a Magistrate Judge for Report and Recommendation. July 1, 2016 Minute Order. The parties agreed that this case should be decided on cross-motions for summary judgment. Joint Status Report and Proposed Briefing Schedule, ECF No. 17.

         After extensive briefing, the Magistrate Judge issued her Report and Recommendation. See Report and Recommendation (“R. & R.”), ECF No. 57. The Magistrate Judge recommended that Ms. Arabaitzis's cross-motion be denied and that Unum's cross-motion be granted. Id. at 2. The Magistrate Judge applied a deferential standard of review to the denial of benefits because the benefit plan expressly gave the plan administrator discretionary authority to make benefit determinations. Id. at 10. And the Magistrate Judge determined that Unum's decision was reasonable. Id. at 12.

         Ms. Arabaitzis did not object to the Report and Recommendation within the 14 days provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(2), and the Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation as its own findings and conclusions. Order Adopting Report and Recommendation, ECF No. 58. Later that day, Ms. Arabaitzis moved for an extension of time to file objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, but the Court denied it as moot based on the Court's prior Order. See September 26, 2018 Minute Order. Now Ms. Arabaitzis moves for reconsideration. See Pl.'s Mot. for Reconsideration (“Mot.”), ECF No. 60. And Unum opposes. Def.'s Obj. to Pl.'s Mot. for Reconsideration (“Def.'s Obj.”), ECF No. 62.

         II.

         The first issue is whether the Court should evaluate Ms. Arabaitzis's motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) or 60(b). Rule 59(e) states that “[a] motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment.” And Rule 60(b) gives parties more time to file motions for relief from final judgment based on, among others, “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.” Unum argues that Ms. Arabaitzis's motion should be evaluated under Rule 59(e)-not the “more lenient standard of Rule 60(b).” Def.'s Obj. at 1. Ms. Arabaitzis insists that she filed a Rule 60(b)(1) motion, and then she correctly argues that the “bar is higher for permitting a Rule 60(b)(1)” than a Rule 59(e) motion. Pl.'s Reply at 8-9, ECF No. 63.

         Courts treat motions for reconsideration filed within Rule 59(e)'s stricter timeframe- originally 10 days and now amended to 28 days-as Rule 59(e) motions as opposed to Rule 60(b) motions. Owen-Williams v. BB & T Inv. Servs., Inc., 797 F.Supp.2d 118, 121-22 (D.D.C. 2011) (“As a general matter, courts treat a motion for reconsideration as originating under Rule 59(e) if it is filed within 28 days of the entry of the order at issue and as originating under Rule 60(b) if filed thereafter.”). So on this point, Unum is correct.

         But this is to Ms. Arabaitzis's benefit. Relief under Rule 60(b) is more restrictive than under Rule 59(e). See Taitz v. Obama, 754 F.Supp.2d 57, 58 (D.D.C. 2010). In general, “the bar stands even higher for a party to prevail on a Rule 60(b) motion” because a party must show “fraud, mistake, extraordinary circumstances, or other enumerated situations.” Uberoi v. EEOC, 271 F.Supp.2d 1, 2-3 (D.D.C. 2002). Of course, it would be illogical to hold motions for reconsideration filed promptly to a higher standard than stale motions; this would just incentivize parties to sit on their grievances until after the 28-day cut-off. So contrary to her self-harming arguments, Ms. Arabaitzis is entitled to consideration under Rule 59(e) and its more forgiving standard.

         Even Rule 59(e) has limits, though. “Rule 59(e) permits a court to alter or amend a judgment, but it may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Leidos, Inc. v. Hellenic Republic, 881 F.3d 213, 217 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (quoting Exxon Shipping v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 486 n.5 (2008)). Courts may grant a Rule 59(e) motion only “(1) if there is an ‘intervening change of controlling law;' (2) if new evidence becomes available; or (3) if the judgment should be amended in order to ‘correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice'” Id. (quoting Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996)).

         There is no manifest injustice when “a party could have easily avoided the outcome, but instead elected not to act until after a final order had been entered.” Ciralsky v. CIA, 355 F.3d 661, 665 (D.C. Cir. 2004). And the moving party has the burden of proving that ...


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