Shuping v. The Union Central Life Insurance Company is a plaintiff friendly case in the early stages of disability litigation in a Texas federal court. After Randy Shuping filed his ERISA lawsuit, Union Central made a motion asking the court to make its disability decision solely on the administrative record. It argued that plaintiff was not entitled to discovery of any other information or documents. Shuping filed a detailed motion explaining why discovery was necessary. The court agreed with the plaintiff, denied Union Central’s motion to prevent discovery and ruled the plaintiff was entitled to discovery on four separate issues.
Overview of Facts
According to facts presented in plaintiff’s brief in support of discovery, Randy Shuping was employed by Bichsel Trucking when he lost control of the tractor-trailer he was driving which rolled over and landed on its side. He was seriously injured and was hospitalized for a long period of time during which he received treatment from numerous medical providers.
Shuping’s application for payment of medical expenses and lost time benefits provided for in a Union Central policy provided by his employer. His application was denied when Union Central claimed his injuries were not caused by an “occupational accident” as defined in the policy. The detailed definition was provided in Shuping’s brief, but the specific reason Union Central denied benefits was not discussed.
Ultimately, Shuping filed this ERISA lawsuit and requested discovery. Union Central objected, arguing the case should be decided on the administrative record with no other discovery allowed. The court instructed Shuping to file a brief in support of his request for discovery. In response to the brief, the court granted Shuping’s discovery request.
Court Order Granting Discovery
Union Central argued that the court should review the case according to a standard that would give deference to Union Central’s decision and therefore, there was no right to discovery and the case should be decided solely on the administrative record. Although the court agreed that Union Central could be correct if, and only if, that was the standard of review the court should employ. But, the court continued, “Even in a deferential review of the administrator’s exercise of its discretion, the Court would be obliged to consider matters that may require factual exploration through discovery beyond the administrative record, and thus, simply turning over the administrative record will not suffice.”
The court ruled, consistent with arguments presented in Shuping’s brief for discovery, that at a minimum, Shuping was entitled to discovery concerning:
- “The consistency of the administrator’s interpretation of Shuping’s plan;
- Inquiry into the nature and significance of unanticipated costs that might result in different interpretations of the plan;
- Inquiry into the administrator’s good faith; and
- Whether the administrator was laboring under a conflict of interest.”
This case was not handled by our office, but may be instructive for those who seek discovery against opposition by their own insurer. If you are pursuing disability benefits, feel free to call any of our attorneys for a free consultation.