In a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case, the defendant in Javery v. Lucent Technologies Inc. Long Term Disability Plan sought to dismiss the claim because the plaintiffs had failed to initially disclose a long term disability claim on bankruptcy documents. The defendant was arguing that the doctrine of judicial estoppel barred the claim. That means, in laymen’s terms, that if you take a position in one case you cannot take a contrary position in another case.
The plaintiffs were able to show that they did not act in bad faith and lacked any motive to conceal the disability claim. In fact, the evidence reflected that the plaintiffs had disclosed the claim to their bankruptcy attorney in writing and it appears that the attorney’s inadvertence was the reason for this failure to note the long term disability claim on the bankruptcy court documents. Under these facts, the court declined to apply the doctrine of judicial estoppel to bar the plaintiff’s claim.
It should be noted, however, that this will not always be the case. Plaintiffs should endeavor to make certain that they report assets or potential litigation or other types of claims in court documents when required. Here a long term disability claim could have been listed on bankruptcy court documents. This should be done to avoid trouble. There are exceptions, but it is best to avoid unnecessary trouble.
This failure to disclose a disability claim can happen easily. Many disability claimants are forced to file bankruptcy, when they are unable to work and the long term disability claim is denied. It is hard to live on no income, let alone pay bills. Disheartened and stressed claimants are focusing on survival not the possibility that a lawsuit might be later filed. The doctrine of judicial estoppel can be a trap for the unwary. If you fail to list your disability claim you may not receive the same treatment as the plaintiff in this case.
The lower court also reviewed whether the plaintiff was entitled to long term disability benefits. It concluded that the plaintiff was not so entitled. The Sixth Circuit, however, reversed and found that the plaintiff had established an inability to work. In particular, the Sixth Circuit was troubled by the fact that there was never any examination of the plaintiff,yet the plan was disputing the credibility of the plaintiff’s complaints. Furthermore, the doctors performing a mere record review, which included one by Dr. Goldman, ignored the intellectual and/or mental functions of the plaintiff’s job. Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit had no difficulty reversing the district court with instructions that judgment be entered in favor of the plaintiff. This happens in so many claims it is nice to see an appellate court recognize the unfairness here.