United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY
L. ROBART United States District Judge
the court is Defendants Aetna Life Insurance Company
(“Aetna”), the Boeing Company Employee Health and
Welfare Plan (Plan 503) (“Plan 503”), and
Employee Benefit Plans Committee's (“the
Committee”) (collectively, “Defendants”)
motion for partial summary judgment. (Mot. (Dkt. # 26).) Ms.
Hancock opposes Defendants' motion. (Resp. (Dkt. # 28).)
The court has considered the motion, the parties'
submissions in opposition to and support of the motion, the
relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law.
Being fully advised,  the court denies Defendants' motion
for the reasons set forth below.
case arises from Aetna's denial of long-term disability
benefits (“LTD benefits”) to Ms. Hancock.
(See SAC (Dkt. # 24) ¶¶ 1.2, 4.40, 4.51.)
Ms. Hancock began working at the Boeing Company
(“Boeing”) in 1989 and remained at Boeing until
October 2012, when she took leave for cancer treatment.
(Hancock Decl. (Dkt. # 31) ¶ 3.) Ms. Hancock worked as a
Human Resources Generalist at the time she took leave.
(See Admin. Record (“AR”) (Dkt. # 27) at
at Boeing, Ms. Hancock participated in the Group Life and
Accident and Health Insurance Policy (“the
Plan”). (See generally Id. at AET000001-191.)
Aetna issued the Plan to Boeing (see id.), and Ms.
Hancock alleges that Aetna is an administrator and fiduciary
of the Plan as those terms are defined under the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”),
29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. (SAC ¶¶
4.8-4.9). The Committee also administers the Plan.
(Id. ¶ 4.3.) Plan 503 is an “employee
benefit plan” within the meaning of ERISA.
(Id. ¶¶ 4.2.)
Plan defines “disabled” for purposes of LTD
benefits in pertinent part:
From the date that you first become disabled and until
Monthly Benefits are payable for 24 months, you will be
deemed to be disabled on any day if:
• you are not able to perform the material duties of
your own occupation solely because of: disease or injury; and
• your work earnings are 80% or less of your adjusted
After the first 24 months that any Monthly Benefit is payable
during a period of disability, you will be deemed to be
disabled on any day if you are not able to work at any
reasonable occupation (this is any gainful activity for which
you are, or may reasonably become fitted by education
training or experience. It does not include work under an
approved rehabilitation program) solely because of: disease;
(See Id. at AET000058 (emphasis omitted); see
also Id. at AET000061; SAC ¶ 4.20.)
Hancock alleges that on October 3, 2012, she became
“unable to perform the material duties of her own
occupation” when she underwent surgery and
“extensive chemotherapy” to treat malignant
cancer. (Id. ¶ 4.22.) Ms. Hancock applied for
short-term disability benefits under the Plan, and Aetna
agreed that Ms. Hancock was disabled under the Plan and
entitled to short-term disability benefits. (AR at
later found Ms. Hancock disabled for purposes of receiving
LTD benefits. (Id. at AET001120-21, AET001265-66.)
But on February 25, 2016, Aetna terminated Ms. Hancock's
LTD benefits effective February 26, 2016. (Id. at
AET000980-83.) Ms. Hancock appealed the termination on August
15, 2016 (id. at AET001215-1589), and Aetna received
Ms. Hancock's appeal on August 18, 2016 (id. at
AET002173). In support of her appeal, Ms. Hancock provided a
declaration from her doctor, her own declaration, medical
records, and medical journal articles describing her
condition. (See id. at AET001215-1589) She
contends that she is disabled by the following conditions:
“peripheral neuropathy and a type of cognitive
impairment sometimes referred to as ‘chemo
brain'” (SAC ¶ 4.33; see also AR at
AET001240); Sjogren's syndrome (SAC ¶ 4.34; AR at
AET001240); a lack of feeling in her fingertips and feet,
burning pain in her fingertips, sharp pain in her hands,
burning pain in her feet and lower legs, painful cramping in
her toes and calves, and swollen ankles and feet (SAC ¶
4.35; AR at AET001240-41). Ms. Hancock also takes a
medication that causes fatigue, dizziness, difficulty
concentrating, confusion, and memory issues. (SAC
¶¶ 4.37-4.38; AR at AET001241.) Because of these
conditions, Ms. Hancock alleges that she is “unable to
work at any reasonable occupation.” (Id.
applicable ERISA regulations gave Aetna 45 days to decide Ms.
Hancock's appeal unless special circumstances warranted
an additional 45 days to consider the appeal. See 29
C.F.R. § 2560.503-1(i)(1)(i); Id. §
2560.503-1(i)(3)(i). On September 13, 2016, Aetna confirmed
with Ms. Hancock and her counsel that Aetna had received all
of the records Ms. Hancock intended for Aetna to consider in
her appeal. (AR at AET000992, AET002173.) On the same day,
Aetna also contacted an independent third party to conduct a
peer review of Ms. Hancock's file. (Id. at
AET002189-91.) Aetna assigned the peer review on September
14, 2016. (Id. at AET002191.) On September 26, 2016,
the fortieth day after Ms. Hancock appealed Aetna's LTD
benefits determination, Aetna sent Ms. Hancock a notice that
Aetna was invoking a 45-day extension to decide her appeal.
(Id. at AET000993.) The notice informed Ms. Hancock
that her appeal would be decided by November 10, 2016, and
that the reason for the extension was to give the peer
reviewer enough time to complete his review. (Id.)
The peer reviewer completed his review on September 28, 2016.
(Id. at AET002192-93.)
informed Ms. Hancock on October 20, 2016, that Aetna was
upholding its decision to deny LTD benefits under the
Plan. (Id. at AET000997-99.)
“[B]ased on the clinical review and vocational review,
” Aetna concluded that Ms. Hancock was “no longer
considered disabled from any occupation.” (Id.
at AET000982.) Aetna decided Ms. Hancock's appeal in 64
days. (See Id. at AET000997-99.)
Hancock brings two claims under ERISA: (1) “to recover
the long-term disability benefits due her under the Plan, to
enforce her rights under the Plan[, ] and to clarify her
rights to future benefits under the Plan” (SAC ¶
5.4); see also 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B); and
(2) breach of fiduciary duty (SAC ¶¶ 5.6-5.18);
see also 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3). Ms. Hancock
asserts six theories of breach of fiduciary duty: (1)
unreasonably delaying and then denying Ms. Hancock's
appeal; (2) unreasonably failing to investigate all of the
bases on which to pay Ms. Hancock's claims and refusing
to give her interests or the interests of the Plan at least
as much consideration as Aetna gave its own; (3) unreasonably
failing to adopt and implement reasonable standards to
promptly and fairly investigate, process, and adjudicate Ms.
Hancock's appeal; (4) unreasonably engaging in a
selective review of the evidence to minimize the evidence
supporting the continuation of benefits while focusing
exclusively on evidence supporting the termination of
benefits; (5) unreasonably failing to establish
administrative processes and safeguards to ensure and verify
appropriately consistent decisionmaking; and (6) unreasonably
failing to train and supervise employees to ensure they are
aware of such administrative processes and safeguards. (SAC
March 15, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for partial summary
judgment. (Mot. at 1.) Defendants contend that Ms.
Hancock's breach of fiduciary duty claim under 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(a)(3) should be dismissed as a matter of law
because (1) Aetna did not breach its fiduciary duty by
seeking a 45-day extension to decide Ms. Hancock's appeal
(id. at 9-10), (2) Aetna's policies and
procedures comply with applicable Department of Labor
(“DOL”) regulations regarding the time for
deciding LTD benefits appeals (id. at 10-11), (3)
Aetna properly applied its timing policies and procedures to
the adjudication of Ms. Hancock's appeal (id. at
11-12), (4) any recovery under Section 1132(a)(3) is barred
as duplicative relief (id. at 13-14), and (5) public
policy considerations militate against finding a breach of
fiduciary duty (id. at 14-15). Ms. Hancock opposes
Defendants' motion and argues that her fiduciary duty
claim is cognizable because she seeks different relief under
Section 1132(a)(3) than under Section 1132(a)(1)(B).
(Resp. at 20.) Ms. Hancock also asserts that
Defendants' motion for summary judgment fails to address
most of her theories of breach of fiduciary duty and that
there are genuine factual disputes regarding whether
Defendants unreasonably delayed a decision on her
appeal.(Id. at 22-24.) The court now
addresses Defendants' motion.