Johnson v. Life Insurance Company of North America et al
ORDER Overruling 50 Plaintiffs Rule 72(a) Objection and Denying 54 Plaintiffs Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record Under ERISA. ORDERED by Judge William J. Martinez on 01/31/2017. (cthom, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Judge William J. Martínez
Civil Action No. 16-cv-00159-WJM-MEH
LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA,
ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS
Before the Court is Plaintiff’s Rule 72(a) Objection (“Objection”) (ECF No. 50) to
the Magistrate Judge’s rulings on certain discovery issues (ECF No. 42). Also before
the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record Under ERISA
(“Motion to Supplement”) (ECF No. 54). For the reasons explained below, the
Objection is overruled and the Motion to Supplement is denied.
I. RULE 72(a) OBJECTION (ECF No. 50)
“Discovery is a nondispositive matter . . . .” Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 105 F.3d 562,
566 (10th Cir. 1997). When reviewing an objection to a magistrate judge’s
nondispositive ruling, the Court must adopt the ruling unless it finds that the ruling is
“clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A);
Hutchinson, 105 F.3d at 566; Ariza v. U.S. West Commc’ns, Inc., 167 F.R.D. 131, 133
(D. Colo. 1996). The clearly erroneous standard “requires that the reviewing court
affirm unless it on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a
mistake has been committed.” Ocelot Oil Corp. v. Sparrow Indus., 847 F.2d 1458,
1464 (10th Cir. 1988). The “contrary to law” standard permits “plenary review as to
matters of law,” 12 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 3069 (2d
ed., Apr. 2016 update), but the Court will set aside a Magistrate Judge’s order only if it
applied the wrong legal standard or applied the appropriate legal standard incorrectly,
see Wyoming v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 239 F. Supp. 2d 1219, 1236 (D. W yo. 2002).
Plaintiff served interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for
admission on Defendant, some of which Defendant objected to, leading to a motion to
compel from Plaintiff. (ECF No. 29.) On August 30, 2016, the Magistrate Judge held a
three-hour hearing to resolve the many disputes raised by the motion to compel. (See
ECF No. 42.) Plaintiff now objects apparently to every ruling from the Magistrate Judge
that did not go her way. Plaintiff’s objection suffers from at least two fatal flaws.
First, the Magistrate Judge made all of his rulings on the record in open court,
yet Plaintiff has not provided the Court with a transcript of the hearing. Plaintiff instead
offers a table with one-sentence summaries of those rulings. (ECF No. 50 at 4–8.)
Many of the summaries are a single word, “Denied,” with no explanation. Others
contain a very brief explanation, e.g., “ruled as ‘argumentative’ and compound.” (Id. at
6.) But in either event, the Court lacks all context, discussion, and—most importantly—
the Magistrate Judge’s actual words. The Court cannot properly review any rulings on
this record, which Plaintiff has failed to supply. Cf. Rios v. Bigler, 67 F.3d 1543, 1553
(10th Cir. 1995) (“It is not this court’s burden to hunt down the pertinent materials.
Rather, it is Plaintiff’s responsibility as the appellant to provide us with a proper record
Second, as noted above, the standard of review is “clearly erroneous or . . .
contrary to law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a). Plaintiff nowhere argues that any specific ruling
amounts to clear error, or was made contrary to law. See, e.g., Horton v. Doe, 2011
WL 6217115, at *3 (D. Colo. Dec. 14, 2011) (Rule 72(a) objections m ust be specific to
enable proper review). Instead, as part of the same table summarizing the Magistrate
Judge’s rulings, Plaintiff includes a column briefly describing her argument in favor of
each discovery request, and these arguments frequently comprise only vague
assertions such as “[c]larity is needed” or “[t]hese facts are easy to furnish and will be
helpful.” (ECF No. 50 at 5.) This does not satisfy Plaintiff’s obligation to present a
specific Rule 72(a) objection.
For these reasons, Plaintiff’s Objection will be overruled.
II. MOTION TO SUPPLEMENT THE RECORD (ECF No. 54)
Plaintiff requests that the Court add three categories of documents to the
administrative record. As to two of these categories, the Court can dispose of Plaintiff’s
request fairly quickly.
The first category of documents is the materials Plaintiff successfully obtained
through discovery. Defendant has no objection to Plaintiff citing or otherwise relying on
these materials in her merits briefs, but believes that the materials should not be a part
of the administrative record. (ECF No. 58 at 9.) The Court agrees. Plaintiff may make
these discovery materials part of the district court record, but they are not appropriate
for the administrative record because they were not before Defendant when it evaluated
her disability claim.
The second category of documents is all of the discovery materials Plaintiff
would have received if the Court had sustained her Objection. As the Court has
overruled her Objection, there is nothing further to consider as to this category.
The Court now turns to the third category of documents, namely, medical records
generated after Defendant issued its final denial of Plaintiff’s disability claim. Plaintiff
claims that these records are evidence of her “continuing health impairment.” (ECF No.
54 at 3 (emphasis omitted).)
With respect to documents such as those that Plaintiff seeks to introduce, the
legal standard for supplementing the administrative record in an ERISA case is in
dispute here because it turns on whether the Court will review the merits of Plaintiff’s
ERISA appeal under the de novo standard, for which Plaintiff contends, or under the
arbitrary and capricious standard, for which Defendant contends. If under the arbitrary
and capricious standard, the Tenth Circuit “prohibits courts from considering materials
outside the administrative record where the extra-record materials sought to be
introduced relate to a claimant’s eligibility for benefits.” Murphy v. Deloitte & Touche
Grp. Ins. Plan, 619 F.3d 1151, 1162 (10th Cir. 2010). If under the de novo standard,
the Tenth Circuit grants a small amount of latitude on this question. See Jewell v. Life
Ins. Co. of N. Am., 508 F.3d 1303, 1308–09 (10th Cir. 2007).
Plaintiff asks the Court to determine the standard of review now, as part of the
Motion to Supplement. (ECF No. 54 at 3–4.) The Court declines to do so at this stage.
Instead, the Court will assume for argument’s sake that the de novo standard of review
will apply to the merits of this case.
Even under de novo review,
it is the unusual case in which the district court should allow
supplementation of the record, and . . . only exceptional
circumstances could warrant the admission of additional
evidence. . . . ERISA policy strongly disfavors expanding the
record beyond that which was available to the plan
administrator. Supplemental evidence should not be used to
take a second bite at the apple, but only when necessary to
enable the court to understand and evaluate the decision
A party seeking to introduce evidence from outside the
administrative record bears a significant burden in
establishing that he may do so. In particular, (1) the
evidence must be necessary to the district court’s de novo
review; (2) the party offering the extra-record evidence must
demonstrate that it could not have been submitted to the
plan administrator at the time the challenged decision was
made; (3) the evidence must not be cumulative or repetitive;
nor (4) may it be evidence that is simply better evidence
than the claimant mustered for the claim review. Even then,
district courts are not required to admit additional evidence
when these circumstances exist because a court may well
conclude that the case can be properly resolved on the
administrative record without the need to put the parties to
additional delay and expense.
Jewell, 508 F.3d at 1309 (internal quotation marks, citations, and footnote removed;
certain alterations incorporated).
Plaintiff’s Motion to Supplement shows no awareness of the foregoing legal
standard, or even any awareness that there is an applicable legal standard. Plaintiff’s
entire argument in this respect is as follows: “[W]ith de novo review, there should not be
any barrier to the Court’s review of ongoing evidence of disability.” (ECF No. 54 at
Defendant’s response to the Motion to Supplem ent points to the correct legal
standard. (See ECF No. 58 at 11–12 (citing Jewell, supra, in the context of an “even if
the Court finds that de novo review applies” argument).) Plaintiff’s reply, however,
completely ignores Defendant’s argument and continues to show no recognition of the
legal standard. (See generally ECF No. 59.) On this basis alone, Plaintiff is not entitled
to supplement the record. Moreover, the medical records in question appear to be, at
best, “evidence that is simply better evidence than the claimant mustered for the claim
review,” which the Court may not admit. Jewell, 508 F.3d at 1309. Plaintiff’s Motion to
Supplement will be denied.1
For the reasons stated above, the Court ORDERS as follows:
Plaintiff’s Rule 72(a) Objection (ECF No. 50) is OVERRULED; and
Plaintiff’s Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record Under ERISA (ECF
No. 54) is DENIED.
Plaintiff has already filed her opening brief on the merits. (ECF No. 71.) To the extent
Plaintiff has advanced arguments to which Defendant believes it need not respond in light of
this order, Defendant should explicitly note as much in its response brief.
Dated this 31st day of January, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
William J. Martínez
United States District Judge
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