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Smith v. FedEx Freight East

February 1, 2010

WILLIAM S. SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDEX FREIGHT EAST, INC., HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT INSURANCE CO., AND GROUP LONG TERM DISABILITY PLAN FOR EMPLOYEES OF FEDEX FREIGHT EAST, INC. DEFENDANTS.



Hon. John E. Jones III

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court in this employee-welfare action governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 ("ERISA") are two cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 46, 50). For the reasons articulated in this Memorandum, the Court will grant Defendant Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company's ("Defendant" or "Hartford") Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defendant's Motion") (Doc. 46), and, accordingly, deny Plaintiff William Smith's ("Plaintiff" or "Smith") Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Plaintiff's Motion") (Doc. 50). An appropriate Order dismissing the action shall enter.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff initiated this action on December 16, 2008, with the filing of a Complaint against Defendant Hartford, FedEx Freight East, Inc. ("FedEx"), and Group Long Term Disability Plan for Employees of FedEx Freight East, Inc. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff asserts that Hartford's decision to deny him Long-Term Disability ("LTD") benefits under his employee welfare plan was arbitrary and capricious and seeks relief pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132. (Doc. 1). On December 22, 2008, Plaintiff moved to supplement the administrative record of his claim. (Doc. 17). After full briefing, the Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiff's Motion to Supplement. (Doc. 37). We allowed Plaintiff to supplement the record with one doctor's medical examination report*fn1 and remanded Plaintiff's claim to Hartford for reconsideration in light of the supplemental record. (Doc. 37). Hartford again denied Plaintiff LTD benefits.

On June 18, 2009, the Court approved a stipulation that dismissed from the action without prejudice FedEx and Group Long Term Disability. (Doc. 44).

Subsequently, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 46), brief in support thereof (Doc. 47), supporting exhibits (Doc. 48), and Statement of Material Facts ("Defendant's SOMF") (Doc. 49) on July 10, 2009. Plaintiff filed his Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 50) and Statement of Material Facts ("Plaintiff's SOMF") (Doc. 51),on that same date. Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Defendant's Motion on July 23, 2009. (Doc. 54). Defendant filed a brief in opposition to Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. 55) and a response to Plaintiff's SOMF (Doc. 57) on July 24, 2009. Neither party elected to file a reply. Thus, this matter is ripe for disposition.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

In opposing summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations of denials in its own pleadings; rather, its response must ... set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Serv., 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). Arguments made in briefs "are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Twp. of Lacey, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109-10 (3d Cir. 1985). However, the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non- moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).

Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a factfinder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; there must be a genuine issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.

Where, as here, detailed below, material questions as to "reasonableness" have been fully developed on the record, the "Court may appropriately grant summary judgment if a bench trial would not enhance its ability to draw inferences and conclusions." Chao v. Local 54, Hotel Employees and Rest. Employees Int'l Union, 166 F. Supp. 2d 109 (D.N.J. Oct. 9, 2001) (citing Coats & Clark, Inc. v. Gay, 755 F.2d 1506, 1509-10 (11 th Cir. 1985)).

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following facts and inferences are drawn from the record*fn2 and the submissions of the parties and, unless ...


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