Hewlett Packard's denial of disability benefits is upheld by appeals court

When Laurie Cooper walked into the U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, she had to demonstrate before the court that she had been denied a full and fair review of her claim and that the denial of her benefits abused the discretion given the benefit provider, Hewlett Packard Company Disability Plan. Two out of three judges found that she had failed to do this. In a two-to-one decision, the ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas was affirmed.

The end result? Ms. Cooper will not receive long-term disability benefits. Let’s look at this case and see how the circuit judges reached their conclusions.

Cooper had been a content manager at Hewlett Packard (HP) for 16 years when she stopped working on March 24, 2004. The main duty of her job involved writing technical documentation, which entailed long hours in front of the computer. Cooper participated in HP’s short-term and long-term disability plans which HP funded and VPA, Inc. (VPA) administered. The 43 year old applied for short term disability benefits based on the neck and back pain she had been experiencing.

The policy language

The policy stated that during the first 26 weeks following the onset of her injury or illness, Cooper had to be unable to perform the material and essential functions of her usual occupation, content manager. Cooper submitted medical evidence from her psychiatrist and another treating physician that documented her chronic back pain, depression, bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety. Based on this evidence, VPA approved Cooper’s short-term disability benefits on April 20, 2004.

When the 26 weeks ended, Cooper applied for long-term disability benefits under the “Totally Disabled” provision of the plan. Under this provision her qualifications for long-term benefits were contingent up to the 24th month on her still being unable to fulfill the duties of her usual occupation as a content manager. Cooper’s medical evidence supported this extension of benefits, and she was approved for long-term disability coverage on September 23, 2004.

VPA contacted Cooper on September 19, 2005 to confirm her continued eligibility for disability benefits. On March 25, 2006, Cooper’s eligibility would come under stricter requirements, the inability to perform any occupation for which she was or could become qualified for based on her education, training or experience. She also would not be able to use a nervous or mental disorder to support her extension of benefits.

Medical history

To support her claim, Cooper submitted medical records from several treating physicians. These records suggested that the neck and hand surgeries Cooper had undergone had produced an improvement in her condition. Some records indicated that her pain levels were in an acceptable range. One doctor stated that she was in “no acute distress”.

VPA ordered an independent medical evaluation (IME) by a neurologist. His April 19, 2006 findings suggested that Cooper could stand, walk, sit, and drive for up to four hours each day as long as these activities didn’t last long than one hour at a time. He also felt that she would be able to lift up to 10 pounds, bend, squat, crawl, reach above her shoulders, and perform activities with her hands that included fine manipulation and pushing/pulling and grasping.

VPA then referred Cooper’s file to a vocational specialist. The specialist reviewed Cooper’s medical history along with the most recent IME and identified three potential jobs that would accommodate Cooper’s limitations, including her need to change positions frequently. The vocational specialist noted that all three positions would allow Cooper to work at modified workstations.

Denial of benefits

Based on this information, VPA denied Cooper’s claim for long-term disability benefits on July 19, 2006. The claim denial letter acknowledged Cooper’s inability to return to her former job, but that the basis for the denial was on the fact that Cooper could work in another job for which she was qualified or could become qualified to perform. VPA listed the jobs recommended: program manager, computer operations manager and department manager. VPA cited her improving condition as well.

On February 13, 2007, Cooper appealed VPA’s decision. She submitted documentation from a November 12, 2006 doctor’s visit that noted that while she was healing well from her fusion surgeries at C5-C6 and C6-C7, he found evidence that she had degenerative disk disease above and below the fusion which was giving Cooper enough pain to disable her from her work. He noted that she was having difficulty doing any meaningful work, but especially found working at a computer increased her pain to an unbearable level.

She also submitted the March 21, 2006 notes from another treating physician that indicated that she was going to be starting work at a jewelry store because her long-term benefits were going to end soon. The same physician noted on April 21, 2006 that she was working part time, experiencing pain and tolerating her medications. He saw her again on June 28 and again noted that she was working 25 hours a week, but this time made no mention of Cooper complaining of pain.

She also provided the records from a visit with her pain management provider on September 18, 2006. During this visit the physician noted that she had increased pain. During an October 30, 2006 visit, the doctor noted that Cooper ranked her pain at a 4/10 level, with 10 being the least tolerable level. He scheduled her for a caudal epidural steroid injection the following day.

During a follow-up visit on January 18, 2007, Cooper noted that the effects of the steroid injection had not lasted very long. She reported that her pain level had changed to a 4-5/10 level. By her next visit on February 12, her pain level was at 5/10. Her doctor noted that she was still working as a jewelry store sales clerk and that she was abiding by her doctor recommended restrictions, which stipulated that she not stand or sit for more than 20-30 minutes at a time. He noted disc bulges in her thoracic and lumbar spine. He “strongly doubted” she could work full-time.

VPA asked for copies of Cooper’s pay stubs, which were provided. The pay stubs indicated that from the time her disability coverage ended on April 1, 2006, Cooper had worked from 28.44 to 92.61 hours in any two-week period. Cooper applied for Social Security Benefits but was denied on July 11, 2006 because she was working and made too much. VPA took this decision into consideration, and on May 16, 2007 denied Cooper’s appeal.

In the denial, VPA pointed to documents in the record that indicated her symptoms had improved. They noted their unsuccessful attempts to contact one of her primary care providers. They also noted that the fact that she was working supported their conclusion that she was able to work in another occupation, which disqualified her from continuing benefits under the provisions of the plan.

On May 23, VPA received a letter from her primary care provider stating that her primary diagnosis impaired her ability to work and that she should be considered, based on her medical pathology, totally disabled and unable to be gainfully employed. When this letter failed to reverse VPA’s denial, she filed action against the HP Plan on September 6, 2007. On January 14, 2009, the District Court sided with VPA’s decision and granted summary judgment to HP.

Court of Appeals

When the case came before the Court of Appeals, it was reviewed de novo, afresh, using the same standard as the district court did. The Appeals Court reviewed the VPA’s decision from the same perspective as the district court did. They also looked explicitly for any evidence of abuse of discretion as Cooper alleged.

The Court found that VPA’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, and thus could not be found arbitrary or capricious. Two of the justices also found that Cooper’s claim that VPA changed the basis upon which they denied her claim could not be substantiated.

One justice found that using Cooper’s employment as substantiating evidence that she was ineligible for long-term disability under the terms of the plan’s “any employment” clause, denied her right to a full and fair hearing. The other two justices disagreed. Citing the fact that VPA had based its denial on the fact that her medical records did not substantiate her inability to work, they found VPA’s mention of her employment a mere technical noncompliance, not a changing the basis for their decision which was the failure of her medical records to support her inability to work at any job.

The court found it illogical to expect Cooper to contend that she was unable to perform “any occupation” while she was holding down a job. They found her dependence on a brief, four sentence letter from her treating physician did not negate his earlier assessment which found her able to work under certain conditions. Her other physicians also failed to produce evidence the made it clear why she would be unable to work.

The Court found that the administrative record contained considerable evidence to support VPA’s denial of benefits and that Cooper failed to produce controlling evidence that she could not perform the duties of “any occupation.” The only decent to this decision revolved around the use of Cooper’s employment against her. Under the terms of the long-term disability policy, VPA’s denial was reasonable and was thus affirmed again in Appeals Court.

Did you find this helpful?
Unhelpful (0)

Resources to Help You Win Disability Benefits

Disability Benefit Denial Options
Submit a Strong Appeal Package

We work with you, your doctors, and other experts to submit a very strong appeal.

Learn more

Sue Your Disability Insurance Company

We have filed thousands of disability denial lawsuits in federal Courts nationwide.

Learn more

Protect Your Benefits
Get Your Disability Application Approved
We help claimants throughout the entire application process.

Learn more

Prevent a Disability Benefit Denial
We manage every aspect of your disability claim following claim approval.

Learn more

Negotiate a Lump-Sum Settlement

Our goal is to negotiate the highest possible buyout of your long-term disability policy.

Learn more

Disability Company Reviews
Showing 8 of 633 Reviews

Low payments

Reviewed by Dorothy on November 30th 2023   Verified Policyholder | November 2023 date of disability
I was injured at work. I did house keeping in a hospital. I tore just about everything imaginable in my knee. I was let go from my job, because I was no longer able to do ... read more >
Lincoln Financial

Well Documented correspondence

Reviewed by Joshua on November 23rd 2023   Verified Policyholder | May 2023 date of disability
I read other situations and it’s all very similar to my case. I have received STD from May 2023 and when my FMLA run out LF would not respond or answer my calls. My last... read more >

They closed my claim and I have been without income since they closed it

Reviewed by Mary C. on November 8th 2023   Verified Policyholder
Went off work on 9/26/22 due to back issues. Applied for Short Term Disability. On Jan 2023 switched over to Long Term Disability and Unum had me to apply for Social Secur... read more >

Bad Faith

Reviewed by Dustin G on October 12th 2023   Verified Policyholder | November 2020 date of disability
They kept asking my doctor for the same information that they did not need to process my claim. He kept sending in the same information, and they kept asking for it. My do... read more >

Denied by Hartford after 20 years of Payments

Reviewed by Mary on October 11th 2023   Verified Policyholder
Hello,I am a Multiple Sclerosis patient. I also have Lymph-edema, Asthma, Blood-clot problems, Bi-Polar 1 Depression, and Head & Neck Injuries. And now, due to MS, Spast... read more >

Standard insurance just dropped me with no communication with me.

Reviewed by D Larson on October 4th 2023   Verified Policyholder | June 2019 date of disability
I was put on Standard insurance by my employer in 2019. I was told by them when I was first on disability that I would be on this for the rest of my life. After 2 years of... read more >
Sent on October 4th 2023 by Attorney Gregory Dell

I am sorry to hear about your experience. Do you currently have a denial letter from them that you can email to me?

Sun Life

What a mess

Reviewed by Unknown on September 12th 2023   Verified Policyholder | July 2020 date of disability
This place has no idea what day it even is. First they attach my claim to my previous claim in which was a new claim. They messed up and denied me then made me wait yet ag... read more >
Sent on September 12th 2023 by Attorney Gregory Dell

I am sorry to hear what you are experiencing. Make sure you deal with Sunlife writing and follow up every day. If you would like assistance please contact us.


I was disabled 2003 by SS. I got SSDI 7 years too late.

Reviewed by Bunny on August 9th 2023   Verified Policyholder
I believe if Sedgwick would have moved on my Claim. They absolutely did everything not to answer my calls, change dates. I had already been through WV comp. Ins. Sold out,... read more >
Answered Questions by Our Lawyers
Helpful Videos
Showing 12 of 834 Videos
Disability Benefit Tips
Showing 8 of 329 Benefit Tips

Disability Benefit Denial Reason #4 - Your Doctor Is Misled By the Disability Company

When you're seeking disability benefits under a long term disability policy, your medical rec... Read More >

Disability Benefit Denial Reason #3 - Video & Social Media Surveillance

One thing many long term disability claimants don't know about (or expect) from the claims re... Read More >

How Do You Fight a Long-Term Disability Denial?

Getting a denial letter from your disability insurance company is one of the ultimate insults... Read More >

Disability Denial Reason #2 - Change of Disability Definition & Vocational Review

One of the top reasons for terminating a claimant's long term disability benefits involves th... Read More >

Disability Denial Reason #1 – Paper Review & IME

At Dell Disability Lawyers, we've seen insurance companies give countless reasons to deny lon... Read More >

How to Apply for Reliance Standard Disability Benefits & Top 5 Reasons for a Claim Denial

At Dell & Schaefer we’ve handled hundreds of long term disability insurance claims against Reliance Standard, and have learned a few thi... Read More >

Applying for Standard Disability Benefits? Top 5 Claim Denial Reasons

At Dell & Schaefer, we've helped hundreds of clients recover long term disability benefit... Read More >

Guardian Disability Benefit Claim Handling Tips

When you finally receive a letter from Guardian Disability informing you that your claim for ... Read More >
Dell Disability Cases
Showing 8 of 362 Dell Disability Cases

How does Reliance Standard deny long term disability benefits after paying for three years?

A former Payroll Manager for Solairus Aviation, a large Private Jet Charter and Aircraft Mana... Read More >

Louisiana State College Director Wins Unum LTD Appeal But Then Denied Again

Client was Regional Director for the State of Louisiana. She was diagnosed with cervical rad... Read More >

FPL Lineman Wins Lincoln Disability Denial Appeal

Lincoln Life Assurance Company of Boston improperly denied our client’s long-term disabilit... Read More >

Anesthesiologist Approved for Long Term Disability Benfits Plus an Extra 9 Months of Benefits

Our client, an Anesthesiologist, suffered a fall at his home which resulted in rupturing his ... Read More >

Research Epidemiologist with chronic fatigue / ME wins LTD appeal against Prudential

Our client is a former Mental Health Epidemiologist who unfortunately suffered the progressive onset of perv... Read More >

Executive Director with Meniere's Denied Long Term Disability Insurance Benefits By Hartford

Our client, came to us when he was unjustly denied his claim for LTD benefits by Aetna, now Hartford, assert... Read More >

Lincoln Approves Long Term Disability Benefits After Four Year Fight

With financial protections afforded to disability insurance companies under ERISA that insulate them from extra contractual damages there is v... Read More >
Disability Lawsuit Stories
Showing 8 of 763 Lawsuit Stories

Federal Court Overturns Aetna Denial Of Disability Benefits

In the recent case of Ferrin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co. a federal judge from the Northern District of Illinois determined that Aetna improperly te... Read More >

Court Finds Irregularities in Procter & Gamble Long Term Disability Benefit Denial

In ERISA cases filed in a district court asking for judicial review of a plan administrator's denial of benefits, the court is generally limit... Read More >

Federal Judge Makes Companion Life Insurance Pay Long Term Disability Benefits

Companion Life tried to play games and deny long term disability benefits, but thankfully a New Mexico Federal Judge made them pay disability ... Read More >

NFL Disability Review Board Ignores Evidence of Disability and Appeal Court Reverses Lower Court Decision

In Darren Mickell v. Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Players Retirement Plan (Plan), Mickell spent nine years in the NFL as a defensive e... Read More >

Judge Agrees that MetLife's Denial of Long Term Disability Benefits was Reasonable

In Anne Ehlert v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife), Ehlert was a consulting pension actuary for pension plans at Towers... Read More >

Can Standard Insurance Company’s Failure to Raise an Issue be Considered a Waiver?

The case of Jose Chavez v. Standard Insurance Company has quite a history with the United States District Court for the Northern Dis... Read More >

Court Ordered Aetna to Pay LTD Benefits to Computer Engineer

In Darren Cohen v. Aetna Life Insurance Company [Aetna], Plaintiff was employed by STEC, Inc. as a Computer Systems Engineer where h... Read More >

California Federal Judge Orders Standard Insurance Company to Pay Disability Benefits to Teacher with Lyme Disease

In Tisha Entz v. Standard Insurance Company, Plaintiff Entz was a classroom teacher in Victorville, California from 1997 until she became... Read More >

Reviews from Our Clients

Request a Free Consultation

Our Lawyers Respond Same Day

5 Ways We Help Get Your Benefits Paid

Get Your Disability Application Approved

Our goal is to get your application for disability income benefits approved. Applying for disability benefits can be a difficult process and the information you provide is critical. Most disability insurance companies look at your application in hopes of finding a reason to deny your claim. Your disability company will ask you to complete numerous forms, interview you, request lots of information, speak with your doctors and possibly request to have you examined by their "hired gun" doctor.

Through our experience of having helped thousands of disability insurance claimants, our lawyers will guide you through the entire application process and give you the best chance to get your disability claim approved the first time.

Submit A Strong Appeal Package

If your disability insurance benefits have been wrongfully denied, then our lawyers know exactly what it takes to get your disability claim approved. You only get once chance to submit an Appeal, therefore every piece of evidence that will support your disability claim must be included. The goal is to win your disability benefits at the Appeal level, but while preparing your Appeal you must consider how a federal judge will review your disability claim if your benefit denial is upheld.

Preparing a strong disability appeal package is an art that requires you to understand how the courts interpret your disability policy language, ERISA regulations / laws, and how to strategically present evidence in support of your definition of "disability". We encourage you to contact any of our lawyers for a free immediate review of your disability denial.

Sue Your Disability Company

98% of the disability insurance lawsuits filed by our law firm have resulted in either the payment of benefits or a lump-sum settlement agreement. Our disability lawyers have filed ERISA governed and private policy long term disability insurance lawsuits against every major disability insurance company in state and federal courts nationwide and we love fighting for the "little guy" against the multi-billion dollar insurance company giants.

We have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients and we would like the opportunity to provide you with a free review of your disability benefit denial. There are many complex factors in a disability benefit lawsuit and the legal battle to win long term disability benefits can be fierce.

Prevent A Disability Benefit Denial

Approval of long-term disability is a continuous process as every disability insurance company will evaluate your eligibility for benefits on a monthly basis. You can never let your guard down and assume that your disability company will continue to pay your benefits for as long as you think you need them.

Our law firm offers a reasonable flat fee monthly claim handling service in which we handle every aspect of your long-term disability claim and do whatever it takes to make sure you are paid every month.

Negotiate a Lump-Sum Settlement

Let's discuss if a lump-sum settlement or buyout of your disability insurance claim is both available and makes financial sense for you. Our lawyers have negotiated more than five-hundred million dollars in disability insurance buyouts and we know how to get you a maximum settlement. A disability insurance company is not required to offer a buyout and not every disability company offers them.

Questions About Hiring Us

Who are Dell Disability Lawyers?

We are disability insurance lawyers that know how to get your short or long term disability benefits paid. As a nationwide law firm we have helped thousands of disability insurance claimants throughout the United States to collect hundreds of millions of dollars of disability insurance benefits from every major disability insurance company.

In more than 98% of our cases, our lawyers have been able to either get our clients paid monthly disability benefits or obtain a one-time lump-sum settlement. Our lawyers have seen it all when it comes to disability insurance claims and we know exactly what it takes for your disability claim to be approved.

We welcome you to contact any of our attorneys for a free immediate review of your disability claim. We also invite you to visit and subscribe to our YouTube channel where we have more than 700 videos and regularly provide tips to help protect your disability benefits.

Who do you help?

Our lawyers help individuals that have either purchased a long term disability insurance policy from an insurance company or obtained short or long term disability insurance coverage as a benefit from their employer. We have helped individuals in almost every type of occupation with monthly disability benefit payments ranging from $1,500 to $50,000.

Our clients include all types of employees ranging from retail associates, sales representatives, government employees, police officers, teachers, janitors, nurses, pilots, truck drivers, financial advisors, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, lawyers, consultants, IT professionals, engineers, professional athletes, business owners, and high level executives.

A strong understanding and presentation of the duties of your occupation is essential for securing disability insurance benefits.

Do you work in my state?

Yes. We are a national disability insurance law firm that is available to represent you regardless of where you live in the United States. We have partner lawyers in every state and we have filed lawsuits in most federal courts nationwide. Our disability lawyers represent disability claimants at all stages of a claim for disability insurance benefits. There is nothing that our lawyers have not seen in the disability insurance world.

What are your fees?

Since we represent disability insurance claimants at different stages of a disability insurance claim we offer a variety of different fee options. We understand that claimants living on disability insurance benefits have a limited source of income; therefore we always try to work with the claimant to make our attorney fees as affordable as possible.

The three available fee options are a contingency fee agreement (no attorney fee or cost unless we make a recovery), hourly fee or fixed flat rate.

In every case we provide each client with a written fee agreement detailing the terms and conditions. We always offer a free initial phone consultation and we appreciate the opportunity to work with you in obtaining payment of your disability insurance benefits.

Do I have to come to your office to work with your law firm?

No. For purposes of efficiency and to reduce expenses for our clients we have found that 99% of our clients prefer to communicate via phone, email, fax, GoToMeeting sessions, or Skype. If you prefer an initial in-person meeting please let us know. A disability company will never require you to come to their office and similarly we are set up so that we handle your entire claim without the need for you to come to our office.

How can I contact you?

When you call us during normal business hours you will immediately speak with a disability attorney. We can be reached at 800-698-9159 or by email. Lawyers and staff must return all client calls same day. Client emails are usually replied to within the same business day and seem to be the preferred and most efficient method of communication for most clients.