United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
GLEN L. BRAWLEY, DMD, Plaintiff,
NORTHWESTERN MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Glen Brawley, an orthodontist, had five disability income
policies with Defendant Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance
Company (“Northwestern”). (Doc. 1-1 at
¶¶ 7-12). After he severely injured his dominant
hand in a brush saw accident, Dr. Brawley filed a claim under
each of the policies. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-25,
34). Until January 1, 2015, Northwestern paid Dr. Brawley
disability benefits under all five policies, but in February
2015, it reassessed his condition and discontinued all
disability payments. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-40).
Dr. Brawley timely filed an appeal of the denial, which
Northwestern denied. (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42). In
March 2016, Dr. Brawley submitted a second claim for
disability benefits. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 43). After its
review of the second request, Northwestern determined it was
“unable to re-open [Dr. Brawley's] prior claim or
approve a new claim.” (Doc. 32-4). This lawsuit
pending before the court is Northwestern's motion for
partial summary judgment. (Doc. 27). Northwestern argues that
Counts II through V of Dr. Brawley's complaint are
time-barred under either Alabama's twenty-year rule of
repose or the applicable statute of limitations. (Doc. 28 at
6). For the reasons explained below, the court GRANTS
IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Northwestern's
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court shall grant summary judgment 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). The court views the evidence in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party. Baas v.
Fewless, 886 F.3d 1088, 1091 (11th Cir. 2018).
Brawley purchased five disability income policies from
Northwestern. The first policy was issued on April 10, 1981
(the “1981 Policy”). (Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 7). The
second policy was issued on November 10, 1987 (the
“1987 Policy”). (Id. at ¶ 11). The
third policy was issued on January 10, 1990 (the “1990
Policy”). (Id. at ¶ 12). The fourth and
fifth policies were issued on March 1, 2002 (collectively,
the “2002 Policies”). (Id. at ¶
14). All five of the policies remained in effect at all
relevant times. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 7, 11, 12, 14).
Brawley did not actually read any of the disability policies;
he “looked” at the 1981, 1987, and 1990 Policies
“close enough to verify the premium and benefits were
as represented” and relied on the Northwestern
agent's representations about the terms of the 2002
Policies. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 15; Doc. 11 at 12-13). Based on
discussions he had with the Northwestern agent who sold him
the policies, Dr. Brawley believed that the 1987 Policy
provided “true ‘own occupation'”
protection in the event he “could not perform, on a
full-time basis, the primary activities of his specific
specialty (orthodontics).” (Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶
9-11). He believed the 1990 Policy was “virtually
identical” to the 1981 and 1987 Policies (id.
at ¶ 12), and when he purchased the 2002 Policies, he
understood them to be “essentially the same as the
three previous policies” (id. at ¶ 15).
Dr. Brawley did not compare the language in the 2002 Policies
to the three earlier policies. (Id.).
2013, after a severe injury to his dominant hand impacted his
ability to work, Dr. Brawley applied for disability benefits
under all five policies. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 19, 34).
Northwestern approved the claim, subject to continuing proof
of disability requirements, and paid Dr. Brawley monthly
disability benefits under the policies through January 2015.
(See Id. at ¶¶ 34, 35). In February 2015,
Northwestern denied Dr. Brawley's claim for disability
benefits beyond what had already been paid. (Id. at
February 2016, Dr. Brawley sold his orthodontics practice and
stopped practicing. (Id. at ¶¶ 43, 47). He
then submitted, in March 2016, a second claim based on his
updated employment status and included additional medical
records regarding a condition in his right elbow. (Doc. 1-1
at ¶ 43).
April 2016, Northwestern sent Dr. Brawley a letter
acknowledging receipt of the claim and informing him that
Northwestern would “be re-evaluating [his] claim from
[the] original submission in 2013 to see if [it] can change
that decision and, if not, [determine] whether [it] can
establish a current period of disability.” (Doc. 32-3).
In June 2016, Northwestern concluded its “review of
[Dr. Brawley's] claim both with regard to [his] current
limitations and possible limitations continuing from [the]
original claim.” (Doc. 32-4). Based on its review,
Northwestern determined that it was “unable to either
re-open [Dr. Brawley's] prior claim or approve a new
Brawley sued Northwestern and two insurance agents in state
court, asserting various state law claims. (Doc. 1-1). The
Defendants removed the case to this court based on diversity
jurisdiction. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 6). The court (Hopkins, J.)
dismissed the two insurance agents as fraudulently joined,
concluding that the rule of repose barred some of the claims
against them and the statute of limitations barred the rest.
(Doc. 19 at 2-3, 36-37).
only remaining Defendant is Northwestern. Count I alleges
Northwestern breached the terms and provisions of all five
policies issued to Dr. Brawley. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 51).
Counts II, III, and IV assert claims with respect to the
1987, 1990, and 2002 Policies. (Id. at ¶¶
54, 58, 61). Count V alleges Northwestern twice denied Dr.
Brawley's disability claims in bad faith. (Id.
at ¶ 69).