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Johnson v. Harleysville Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 1, 2018

Precious Robert Johnson, Plaintiff,
v.
Harleysville Life Insurance Co., Defendant.

          ORDER OVERRULING OBJECTIONS TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S ORDER

          SEAN F. COX UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff filed this action against Defendant, seeking reinstatement of long term disability benefits under ERISA. The matter has been referred to Magistrate Judge Steven Whalen for all pretrial proceedings.
Plaintiff filed a Statement of Procedural Challenge, wherein he made a request for limited discovery. After the parties briefed the issues, the magistrate judge held a hearing. At the hearing, the magistrate judge noted that he was addressing a request for limited discovery beyond the administrative record. He then heard oral argument as to two issues: 1) discovery relating to Dr. Small; and 2) discovery relating to whether the policy at issue was renewed, amended, or revised. Only the first issue is relevant here.
As to the discovery relating to Dr. Small, the magistrate noted that the plaintiff had shown implicit bias, but still had to make a predicate showing beyond that before any discovery would be appropriate. After considering the arguments of both parties, the magistrate ruled as follows with respect to the discovery sought relating to Dr. Small:
All right. Let me start with - actually, I'll start with the spoiler alert. I'm going to grant in part and deny in part.
Now let me tell you what I'm going to grant and what I'm going to deny in terms of the requests for discovery outside the record.
Let's start with the information, you know, requested about Dr. Small. We have talked about the - and UDC.
We have talked about the standard that there has to be some kind of predicate showing, that the inherent bias isn't enough, that the inherent bias, incidentally, in and of itself, is something that can be considered by the Court when it ultimately decides the issue of whether benefits were improperly denied.
But the - in your case, as I indicated, there was - there were some pretty specific problems with Dr. Small's report. The California cases, as counsel pointed out, on the one hand, are - apart from the fact that they are not binding, there was a specific relationship between Small and/or between UDC and Hartford.
What we have here are a couple of things. One is this conflict between Dr. Cooper's report and Dr. Small's report, a conflict between the two doctors, one of whom works for - you know, one of whom, against whom the information is sought, and another doctor is not in and of itself sufficient to support a request for discovery outside the record.
Looking at the California case, and I understand that involved a different insurance company with perhaps a different relationship, and it does raise a red flag in terms of the marketing strategy and in terms of the claim that it's - as I think I said, was defense friendly.
I'm going to permit some very limited discovery into the issue of bias and it's not going to be as extensive as what the plaintiff is asking for. It's not going to be contracts between UDC and the defendant or the - I think UDC and the defendant.
I will permit basically what was permitted in the New York case, which are interrogatories as to, I think, what the defense refers to as the batting averages, the number of cases that Dr. Small/UDC has handled for Harleysville and the ratio of disability opinions versus non-disability opinions. It will be ...

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