United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER GRANTING IN PART, DENYING IN PART, RESERVING RULING, AND REQUESTING SUPPLEMENTAL BRIEFING ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO CONDUCT DISCOVERY
BENJAMIN H. SETTLE, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Ken Bourland's ("Bourland") motion for leave to conduct discovery (Dkt. 20). The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motion and the remainder of the file and hereby grants the motion in part, denies it in part, reserves ruling, and requests supplemental briefing as discussed herein.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On December 10, 2013, Bourland filed suit against Defendants Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company ("Hartford"), U.S. Bank, and U.S. Bank Long-Term Disability Plan (collectively "Defendants"). Dkt. 1. Bourland challenges Hartford's decision to terminate his long-term disability benefits. Id. Bourland alleges that Hartford has a conflict of interest. Id. at 34. Bourland also alleges that Hartford's medical reviewers and evaluation companies have a financial bias. Id. at 36.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) governs Bourland's claims. See 29 U.S.C. § 1132.
On April 23, 2014, Bourland sent discovery requests to Defendants. Dkt. 21, Declaration of Lisa V. Benedetti ("Benedetti Dec."), Exs. A, B, and C. On May 27, 2014, Defendants responded with general objections to most of Bourland's requests. Benedetti Dec., Exs. E and F.
On July 25, 2014, the parties held a telephonic discovery conference, but did not resolve the discovery issues. Benedetti Dec., Ex. G.
On July 28, 2014, Bourland filed a motion for leave to conduct discovery. Dkt. 20. On August 18, 2014, Hartford responded. Dkt. 25. On August 22, 2014, Bourland replied. Dkt. 29.
Bourland seeks discovery outside of the administrative record regarding Hartford's alleged conflict of interest, the credibility of Hartford's medical reviewers, and other matters. Dkt. 20 at 2. In response, Hartford argues that discovery should be limited to the administrative record. Dkt. 25 at 6-9. Hartford also argues that Bourland's requests are a fishing expedition and not narrowly tailored. Id. at 17.
A. Discovery in ERISA Cases
The availability and scope of discovery in ERISA cases "is directly related to the standard of review employed by the Court." Santos v. Quebecor World Long Term Disability Plan, 254 F.R.D. 643, 647 (E.D. Cal. 2009). To determine the applicable standard of review, courts look at the language in the benefit plan. Abatie v. Alta Health & Life Ins. Co., 458 F.3d 955, 962-63 (9th Cir. 2006). When the plan grants discretion to the administrator, abuse of discretion review applies. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115 (1989). When the plan does not grant discretion, de novo review applies. Id.
In Washington, however, disability insurance policies may not contain discretionary clauses. See WAC 284-96-012. "Discretionary clause' means a provision that purports to reserve discretion to an insurer, its agents, officers, employees, or designees in interpreting the terms of a policy or deciding eligibility for benefits...." Id .
WAC 284-96-012 therefore voids any benefit plan language that grants discretion to the administrator. The standard of review becomes de novo once any discretionary language is invalidated. Landree v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 833 F.Supp.2d 1266, 1274 (W.D. Wash. 2011); see also Firestone, 489 U.S. at 115.
Under de novo review, "[t]he court simply proceeds to evaluate whether the plan administrator correctly or incorrectly denied benefits, without reference to whether the administrator operated under a conflict of interest." Abatie, 458 F.3d at 963. In doing so, the Court considers the evidence in the administrative record. Opeta v. Nw. Airlines Pension Plan, 484 F.3d 1211, 1217 (9th Cir. 2007). The Court should consider extrinsic evidence "only when circumstances clearly establish that additional evidence is necessary to conduct an adequate de novo review of the benefit decision." Mongeluzo v. Baxter Travenol Long Term Disability Benefit Plan, 46 F.3d 938, 944 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Quesinberry v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 987 F.2d 1017, ...