Most often plaintiff’s counsel will hear from defense counsel (and sometimes a judge) that discovery is not permitted in an ERISA case. The whole case should be decided on the “administrative record.” This term “administrative record” is actually an effort to dignify the claim record to the same status as the record composed by the Social Security Administration or other government entities which are not infected with the typical financial bias of an insurance company.
A court in the Middle District of Florida in Everson v. Zurich American Insurance Company ruled that “discovery in ERISA cases is governed by Rule 26(b) which permits discovery only of [r]elevant information] and discovery must [appear reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence]” citing Murphy v. Deloitte & Touche Grp. and Featherstone v. MetLife. The court noted that the insurance company’s decision under the arbitrary and capricious standard of review is generally limited to the information available to the administrator at the time that the decision was made. However, courts have permitted discovery regarding a plan administrator’s conflict of interest and the effect it has on the benefit decision. In fact, as noted in the Murphy case, a claimant might not have access to information necessary to establish the seriousness of the conflict without discovery. In this case, the courts permitted the plaintiff to conduct discovery regarding “the scope and impact of Zurich’s admitted conflict of interest.”
Do you have a similar situation? Call your trusted ERISA lawyer in Tuscaloosa, The Martin Law Group, for more information!