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McArthur v. Unum Life Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

September 4, 2014


For Clyde McArthur, Plaintiff: Ariel S Blocker, David P Martin, LEAD ATTORNEYS, THE MARTIN LAW GROUP LLC, Tuscaloosa, AL.

For Unum Life Insurance Company of America, Defendant: Henry Tonsmeire Morrissette, LEAD ATTORNEY, John S Johnson, HAND ARENDALL LLC, Mobile, AL.

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Plaintiff Clyde McArthur (" McArthur" ) brought this action under § 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (" ERISA" ) to recover benefits under a long-term disability plan (" Plan" ) underwritten by Defendant Unum Life Insurance Company of America (" Unum" ). Before this Court is Unum's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 11), which argues that the Plan's limitations period makes McArthur's claim untimely. Also before this Court is McArthur's motion to compel discovery (Doc. 15) and motion to file a sur-reply brief (Doc. 22). The issues have been fully briefed and are ripe for review. For the reasons discussed below, Unum's motion for summary judgment is due to be granted. McArthur's motion to file a sur-reply brief is due to be granted, and the Court considered the contents of McArthur's sur-reply brief in reaching this decision. McArthur's motion to compel discovery is due to be denied as moot.

I. Background

McArthur was employed by Home Federal Holdings Corporation (" Home Federal" ) as President and Chief Executive Officer.

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As an employee of Home Federal, McArthur participated in a long-term disability plan underwritten by Unum and subject to the requirements of ERISA. Starting in 2004, McArthur underwent a series of back surgeries. McArthur was eventually diagnosed with lumbar radiculitis, a condition that McArthur has stated caused him " [c]onstant pain [that] impairs [the] ability to work, think, prepare myself for work, remain alert, [and] complete basic duties." (Doc. 14 at 3.) According to McArthur's doctors, the condition also left McArthur unable to stand for more than ten minutes at a time and limited his ability to lift objects weighing more than 10 pounds. (Doc. 13-2 at 5.)

In February 2009, McArthur filed a claim for disability benefits. McArthur stopped working at Home Federal on April 30, 2009. ( Id. at 8.) On September 2, 2009, Unum denied McArthur's claim, citing insufficient medical records to determine whether McArthur qualified for benefits. ( See id. at 21.) McArthur appealed Unum's denial and submitted additional medical records in an effort to establish that his condition warranted payment of disability benefits.

On November 20, 2009, Unum sent another letter to McArthur. This letter informed McArthur that Unum had affirmed its previous denial of benefits, and that McArthur had a right to bring a civil suit under § 502 of ERISA challenging the denial. The denial letter also informed McArthur that he was entitled to request from Unum " copies of all documents, records or other information that are relevant to your benefit determination," and that " no further review" of the denial was available from Unum's claims administration department. ( Id. at 34.) On September 10, 2013, McArthur requested all records relating to denial of his benefits claim. In response, Unum provided McArthur with a copy of his claim file and referred him to the Plan's official administrator, Georgia Banker's Association Insurance Trust, Inc.,[1] to obtain copies of the primary Plan documents. McArthur filed the present action on November 7, 2013.

The Plan is made up primarily of two documents: the long-term disability policy (" Policy" ) and the summary plan description (" SPD" ).[2] Both the Policy and the SPD set limitations on when a claimant can bring a civil suit, stating that a claimant may " start legal action regarding your claim 60 days after proof of claim has been given and up to 3 years from the time proof of claim is required, unless otherwise provided by federal law." ( See Doc. 13-1 at 14, 61.) Both the Policy and the SPD

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state that a claimant must submit proof of claim within ninety days of the end of the claimant's " elimination period." As defined in the Plan documents, a claimant's elimination period is " a period of continuous disability which must be satisfied before you are eligible to receive benefits from Unum." ( See id. at 36, 84.) While the Policy does not specify the length of the elimination period, the SPD states that the elimination period is ninety days, meaning that the Plan's limitation on filing a civil suit would begin to run roughly three months after McArthur had been disabled for ninety consecutive days. Finally, both the SPD and the Policy state that " [t]he summary plan description and policy constitute the Plan." ( See id. at 40, 89.)

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate " if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is " material" if it " might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see also Avenue CLO Fund, Ltd. v. Bank of Am., NA, 723 F.3d 1287, 1294 (11th Cir. 2013). There is a " genuine dispute" as to a material fact " if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. The trial judge should not weigh the ...

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