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Swiger v. Hatrford

April 30, 2009

ROBERT SWIGER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE HARTFORD DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge

ELECTRONICALLY FILED

ORDER OF COURT

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Robert Swiger's complaint seeks short term disability ("STD") and long term disability ("LTD") benefits from the Hartford Insurance Company ("Hartford"), claim administrator for Kirby Electric Inc.'s (plaintiff's former employer) welfare benefits plan, pursuant to section 1132 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132. As is the customary practice in such cases, and with the parties' consent, the issues have been joined by cross motions for summary judgment. After careful consideration of the respective motions for summary judgment and the briefs in support and in opposition, and the administrative record before the Hartford, the court will grant summary judgment in favor of Hartford .*fn1

II. Factual Background

The Policies.

At relevant times, Robert Swiger was the CFO - Vice President of Finance for Kirby Electric, Inc. ("Kirby"). Kirby sponsored an LTD policy (originally insured through CNA Group Life Assurance Company) and an STD policy. Both the LTD Policy and the STD Policy provide that Hartford has "sole discretionary authority . . . to determine [an insured's] eligibility for benefits and to interpret the terms and provisions of the plan and any policy issued in connection with it."

The STD Policy states that Disability means a person is: (1) continuously unable to perform the material and substantial duties of his or her own occupation; and (2) not gainfully employed. The LTD Policy provides that Disability means that a person is: (1) unable to perform the material and substantial duties of his or her own occupation, or to engage in any occupation following the first 24 months of benefits; and (2) not gainfully employed.

The STD and LTD Policies also provide that"You will be required to provide signed authorization for Us to obtain and release all reasonably necessary medical, financial or other non-medical information which support Your Disability claim". The Policies further provide that the insured, as part of the proof of disability, must submit proof that the insured is receiving appropriate and regular care of a doctor. Finally, the Policies provide that coverage is only available to full-time employees of Kirby who satisfy other requirements outlined in the Policies.

The Claim

Mr. Swiger's employment at Kirby was terminated on January 28, 2005 for excessive absenteeism. Mr. Swiger's coverage under the Policies terminated when his employment was terminated; plaintiff contends that he was disabled within the meaning of the Policies on and before his termination date.

The administrative record contains medical records ranging from September 13, 2004 - September 26, 2005. In 2004, Mr. Swiger was treated for depression by Dr. Aster Assefa. Dr. Assefa reported that plaintiff "feels good" and that his depression was "very controlled" and "stable". These are the only medical records in the file that predate the onset of Mr. Swiger's alleged disability. Those records do not specifically mention alcohol abuse or any complications arising therefrom.

Plaintiff saw Dr. Assefa the week after his termination for a urinary tract infection and his depression was described again as "stable." Mr. Swiger did not see Dr. Assefa again until June 27, 2005, and his depression remained "stable." No mention is made in these records of alcohol abuse or related impairments. On August 29, 2005, seven (7) months after he had discontinued working, Dr. Assefa's office notes state that Mr. Swiger was admitted to Passavant Hospital for variceal bleeding and alcohol rehabilitation on August 14, 2005. Dr. Assefa's August 29, 2005 office notes are the first-medical records to mention that Mr. Swiger suffered from esophageal variceal bleeding and ligation, and alcohol abuse. On that same day, August 29, 2005, Mr. Swiger filed a claim for STD and LTD benefits stating that he was disabled due to "variceal bleeding, depression and ETOH abuse".

With respect to that application, Dr. Assefa reported that Mr. Swiger was first treated for all three conditions on July 2, 2004, although Dr. Assefa's records do not mention alcoholism or variceal bleeding until August 2005. Dr. Assefa further noted that Mr. Swiger could not ...


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