The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN E. JONES, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER September 7, 2005
THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:
Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (doc.
21) filed by the defendant, Liberty Life Assurance Company of
Boston ("Defendant" or "Liberty Life") on June 1, 2005. We also
have before us a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. 24)
filed by the plaintiff, Randy Nyman ("Plaintiff" or "Nyman") on
June 1, 2005.
For the reasons that follow, we will grant Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment in its entirety and dismiss this case.
On or about November 3, 2004 Plaintiff filed a complaint
against "Liberty Mutual Assurance Company" in the Court of Common Pleas of Centre
County, Pennsylvania. On December 8, 2004, Liberty Life filed a
Notice of Removal in the United States District Court for the
Middle District of Pennsylvania. (See Rec. Doc. 1). On February
23, 2005, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint correctly naming
the defendant to be "Liberty Mutual Assurance Company of Boston."
(See Rec. Doc. 11). Although the amended complaint does not
refer to or cite the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., it asserts a claim for
long-term disability benefits ("LTD benefits") under the
Coca-Cola LTD Policy. We will therefore construe Plaintiff's
amended complaint as arising under the provisions of ERISA.
On June 1, 2005, both parties filed Motions for Summary
Judgment, which have been briefed by the parties. The instant
Motions are therefore ripe for disposition.
Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." FED .R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also
Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir.
1990). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of
showing "there is no genuine issue for trial." Young v.
Quinlan, 960 F.2d 351, 357 (3d Cir. 1992). Summary judgment should not be granted when there
is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences which
a fact finder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley
Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982).
Initially, the moving party has a burden of demonstrating the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corporation
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This may be met by the
moving party pointing out to the court that there is an absence
of evidence to support an essential element as to which the
non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that, where such a
motion is made and properly supported, the non-moving party must
then show by affidavits, pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, that there is a genuine
issue for trial. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). The United States Supreme
Court has commented that this requirement is tantamount to the
non-moving party making a sufficient showing as to the essential
elements of their case that a reasonable jury could find in its
favor. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.
It is important to note that "the non-moving party cannot rely
upon conclusory allegations in its pleadings or in memoranda and
briefs to establish a genuine issue of material fact." Pastore
v. Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 24 F.3d 508, 511 (3d Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). However, all inferences
"should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the
movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Big
Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d
Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 912 (1993) (citations
Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute
between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly
supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that
there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in
original). "As to materiality, the substantive law will identify
which facts are material." Id. at 248. A dispute is considered
to be genuine only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.
STATEMENT OF RELEVANT FACTS:
We initially note that we will, where necessary, view the facts
and all inferences to be drawn therefrom, in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party in our analysis of the pending
Liberty Life provides LTD insurance to employees of The
Coca-Cola Company ("Coca-Cola") and affiliated entities pursuant
to a Group Disability Income Policy ("Coca-Cola LTD Policy")
which was effective January 1, 2003. Plaintiff was a participant in the Coca-Cola LTD Policy as a
result of his employment with CCDA Waters Company, a Coca-Cola
bottling plant in Milesburg, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff was employed
as an industrial operator for the manufacturing department of the
Coca-Cola bottling plant. Deductions were taken from Plaintiff's
pay and his employer was responsible for paying the insurance
premium for this disability insurance policy with Liberty Life.
In July 2003, Plaintiff injured his lower back while building a
chicken coop at his home. He consulted with his chiropractor
without relief and was referred to his treating physician's
assistant, John C. Wadsworth ("Mr. Wadsworth"). Mr. Wadsworth
prescribed medication for muscle spasms and referred Plaintiff to
physical therapy. Plaintiff attempted physical therapy without
improvement and he experienced pain radiating down his legs with
his legs becoming weak with prolonged standing. An August 4,
2003, an MRI of Plaintiff's lumbar spine revealed the following:
disc desiccation of L3-L4, L4-L5, and L5-S1; a small broad based
central disc protrusion of L5-S1, minimal annular bulge of L3-L4
and L4-L5, and a small annular fissure at the L3-L4 level. On
October 9, 2003, Plaintiff followed up with neurosurgeon Gail
Magid ("Dr. Magid") and was ruled out as a surgical candidate.
In December 2003, Plaintiff sought to return to his work with
CCDA Waters; however, Plaintiff's employer insisted upon an
examination by Dr. Susan R. Friedman ("Dr. Friedman") before
Plaintiff was allowed to return to work. On December 10, 2003,
Dr. Friedman examined Plaintiff and recommended the following:
His mechanical back problems, which in my opinion are
the primary cause of his low back pain, should
resolve with appropriate physical therapy treatment.
Should Mr. Nyman wish, I could give him suggestions
about where to go, etc.
At present, I would not recommend that he return to
his regular job. I think the chances are high that
his pain would increase ...