The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry S. Perkin United States Magistrate Judge
This matter was remanded on September 20, 2009 by the Honorable James Knoll Gardner for consideration of and determination of the scope of review and the impact the scope of review has on the discovery dispute at issue in this case under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 ("ERISA").
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY.*fn1
On February 9, 2009, Plaintiff, Melinda Bair ("Plaintiff"), filed a Complaint against the Mars, Inc. Long-Term Disability Benefits Plan ("LTD Plan") for long term disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 ("ERISA"). Plaintiff was employed by Mars, Inc. ("Mars") as a Materials Testing Senior Operator. As an employee benefit, Mars sponsored the LTD Plan. The Life Insurance Company of North America ("LINA") both funds the LTD Plan and at certain times pays benefits under the plan.*fn2
On or around May 15, 2008, Plaintiff was hospitalized at Philhaven Hospital and was discharged on June 10, 2008. Plaintiff was diagnosed with bi-polar II disorder, depressed panic disorder and agoraphobia.*fn3 From May through October 2008, Plaintiff claims that she continued to have symptoms of anxiety, depression, the inability to perform activities of daily living, hopelessness, paranoia and suicidal ideations.
At some point between June and September, 2008, Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Jeremy Walters, M.D., released Plaintiff to part-time work three days a week from 5:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. In correspondence dated September 2, 2008, from Karen Grimaldi, RN, COHN-S, a resident nurse employed by Mars, Plaintiff was informed that she needed to clarify a number of items regarding restrictions placed upon her return to work.*fn4 Ms. Grimaldi's letter informed Plaintiff that: as long as the additional documentation from your health care provider requested above substantiates that your restrictions will not pose a direct threat to your health or safety, the Company may be willing to agree to your request to restrict your working hours (and your job duties) temporarily to enable you to transition back to work.
If you are permitted to temporarily work these transitional nighttime hours, the restrictions would be limited to 4-6 weeks based on business needs and the burden on other associates, During this transition period, your tasks would probably be limited to testing shells and nib samples, data analysis and preliminary beans testing. Additional terms and assignments may be discussed with you as appropriate and necessary, if you are permitted to work this transitional assignment.
Please provide the information requested from your health case provider within 15 days from today.
Document No. 12, Ex. A., p. 2. On September 15, 2008, Dr. Walters again released Plaintiff to return to work with restrictions.
On October 1, 2008, Ms. Grimaldi wrote again to Plaintiff. On October 7, 2008, Plaintiff submitted her claim for long-term disability benefits to LINA. On November 4, 2008, LINA denied Plaintiff's claim for long-term disability benefits.*fn5 On November 11, 2008, Plaintiff appealed the claim denial.
Plaintiff was terminated from Mars on or about December 18, 2008. On December 18, 2008, Plaintiff was hospitalized at Philhaven Hospital due to bipolar disorder, severe depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations. On January 8, 2009, Plaintiff submitted additional medical reports to support her appeal.
On January 9, 2009, LINA informed Plaintiff that it was requesting a peer review of her entire file and a decision on her appeal would be made within thirty (30) days of receipt of all of her information. On January 21, 2009, LINA denied Plaintiff's appeal. The denial letter indicated that Plaintiff had not submitted additional information in support of her claim, therefore LINA reviewed the information that was already on file to determine whether an appropriate decision was made on the initial review of Plaintiff's claim. LINA determined that Plaintiff was capable of returning to work on July 21, 2008, but that she did not do so because of a conflict with co-workers.
Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit on February 9, 2009. On June 2, 2009, Judge Gardner telephonically held a Rule 16 Scheduling Conference with counsel. In the Rule 16 Scheduling Order signed by Judge Gardner on June 2, 2009 and docketed on June 15, 2009, Judge Gardner ordered that all discovery in this case should be completed by August 7, 2009.
On June 12, 2009, Plaintiff submitted a letter motion to compel the deposition of Defendant's Appeal Claim Manager, Ms. Patty Ursiny, to obtain information about alleged procedural irregularities in the Defendant's decision-making process surrounding the denial of long-term disability benefits to Plaintiff. Defendant responded by letter on June 22, 2009, stating that discovery in this case is limited to the administrative record, there is no basis for "conflict" discovery following the Third Circuit's abandonment of the sliding scale approach which might heighten the scrutiny applied during a deferential ...