Blanch v. Chubb & Sons, Inc.
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Chief Judge Catherine C. Blake on 11/18/2014. (hmls, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
CHUBB & SON, INC.
Civil No. CCB-12-1965
Plaintiff David Blanch filed suit against his former employer, defendant Chubb and Son,
Inc. (“Chubb”), after he was terminated from his job as an insurance adjuster. Now before the
court is Blanch’s motion for discovery concerning his claims under the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Chubb opposed the motion, and Blanch filed a reply. The
court finds oral argument unnecessary to resolve the issues. See Local R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2011).
For the reasons stated below, the motion for discovery will be denied.
Blanch worked for Chubb for twelve years, beginning in November 1999. (ECF No. 36,
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 7).1 On February 9, 2011, he “was called to a meeting” to discuss Chubb’s
investigation of a “preferred service provider.” (Id. ¶ 22.) Blanch cooperated, but Chubb
terminated him “for cause” on February 16, 2011, without indicating how Blanch had violated
Chubb’s policies. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 26.) Blanch believes this unexplained “for cause” termination was
a ruse to replace him “with younger and cheaper labor” and avoid paying him, among other
things, a severance package that should have totaled $48,000. (Id. ¶¶ 27-31.) After the
termination, a Chubb human resources manager told Blanch that he was not eligible for a
At this stage the court takes as true the allegations in Blanch’s second amended complaint.
severance package and should not bother requesting one. (Id. ¶ 48.) Nevertheless, Blanch
sought to complete a claim for severance benefits and requested clarification of the grounds for
his termination. (Id. ¶ 49.) Chubb did not respond. (Id. ¶ 50.) On April 14, 2011, Blanch sent
Chubb a written demand for the severance money, and Chubb again failed to respond. (Id. ¶¶
Blanch again demanded severance benefits on October 7, 2013, (id. ¶ 59), but Chubb did
not provide him with relevant plan documents until November 8, 2013, (id. ¶ 56). Chubb denied
Blanch’s claim on January 9, 2014. (Id. ¶ 61.) That denial again stated that Blanch was
terminated “for ‘Cause’ . . . on account of his violation of Chubb’s policies,” but did not specify
which policy Blanch violated or how he violated it. (Id. ¶ 62.) Blanch requested a hearing and
access to documents relevant to the denial, and protested Chubb’s failure to disclose more
information concerning the specific reasons for his termination. (Id. ¶¶ 63-64.) Chubb did not
schedule a hearing, but on May 5, 2014, it issued a “Notice of Denial of Appeal,” thereby
administratively exhausting Blanch’s ERISA claim. (Id. ¶ 66.) That notice referenced a
communication dated April 28, 2011, from Chubb to the Baltimore Field Office of the U.S.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that included Chubb’s explanation as to what
policy provisions Blanch had violated. (Id. ¶ 67.)
Meanwhile, Blanch had filed suit in a Maryland circuit court, and Chubb removed that
action to this court on July 2, 2012. The court previously granted Chubb’s motion for summary
judgment insofar as it concerned Blanch’s claims under Chubb’s profit sharing and annual
incentive plans. On August 8, 2014, Blanch filed a second amended complaint pursuant to the
court’s order of July 10, 2014. That complaint contains two ERISA claims. The first alleges that
Chubb violated 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c) by withholding ERISA plan documents. The second alleges
that to avoid paying Blanch severance benefits, Chubb withheld from him its “entire basis” for
his termination, (Am. Compl. ¶ 67), thus denying him a “meaningful opportunity to dispute his
for cause termination and present evidence to the contrary” within Chubb’s administrative
process, (Id. ¶ 69).2 On August 9, 2014, Blanch moved for discovery concerning his ERISA
claims. On August 25, 2014, Chubb filed an answer to the second amended complaint, as well
as a response in opposition to the motion for discovery. Blanch replied to Chubb’s response on
September 11, 2014.
“A plan established by an employer providing for severance pay benefits is an employee
welfare benefit plan covered by ERISA.” Biggers v. Wittek Indus., Inc., 4 F.3d 291, 295 (4th
Cir. 1993). “In the ERISA context, courts conduct de novo review of an administrator’s denial
of benefits unless the plan grants the administrator discretion to determine a claimant’s eligibility
for benefits, in which case the administrator’s decision is reviewed for abuse of discretion.”
Cosey v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 735 F.3d 161, 165 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Firestone Tire &
Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 111 (1989)). “Determining the appropriate standard of
review of the plan administrator’s decision is important because, among other reasons, it controls
whether the district court may consider evidence that was not presented to the plan
administrator.” Bernstein v. CapitalCare, Inc., 70 F.3d 783, 788 (4th Cir. 1995). A court
conducting de novo review of an ERISA benefits claim may look to evidence outside “the
See 29 U.S.C. § 1133 (requiring that employee benefit plans provide notice of “the specific reasons” for a denial of
a benefits claim, and afford a reasonable opportunity for a full and fair review of a claim denial); 29 C.F.R. §
2560.503-1(g)-(j) (requiring, among other things, that a plan administrator notify a claimant of the specific reason or
reasons for an adverse benefits determination with reference to the specific plan provisions on which the
determination is based, allow the claimant the opportunity to submit evidence relating to the claim, and provide the
claimant with copies of all information relevant to the claim).
evidentiary record that was presented to the plan administrator or trustee” when that evidence “is
necessary for resolution of the benefit claim.” Quesinberry v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 987 F.2d
1017, 1026-27 (4th Cir. 1993) (en banc). But when a court reviews a plan administrator’s
decision for abuse of discretion, the court “is limited to the evidence that was before the plan
administrator at the time of the decision.” Bernstein, 70 F.3d at 788.3 Further, “[i]n cases where
there is a procedural ERISA violation, . . . the appropriate remedy is to remand the matter to the
plan administrator so that a ‘full and fair review’ can be accomplished.” Gagliano v. Reliance
Standard Life Ins. Co., 547 F.3d 230, 240 (4th Cir. 2008). See also Berry v. Ciba-Geigy Corp.,
761 F.2d 1003, 1007 (4th Cir. 1985) (“If the court believed the administrator lacked adequate
evidence, the proper course was to ‘remand to the trustees for a new determination,’ not to bring
additional evidence before the district court.”) (citation omitted). Where the plan administrator
“has acted in bad faith,” however, it is “within the discretion of the district court” to order “a
reversal, rather than a remand.” Id. at 1007 n.3.
Here, the plan document conferred Chubb’s Employee Benefits Committee (“the
Committee”) with discretion to determine eligibility for benefits. (See Chubb’s Resp. Mot.
Discovery, ECF No. 39-1 at 11 (“The Committee shall have the full authority and discretion to
make, amend, interpret, and enforce all appropriate rules and regulations for the administration
of the Plan and decide or resolve any and all questions, including interpretations of the Plan, as
may arise in connection with the Plan.”).) The court is therefore “limited to the evidence that
was before the [Committee] at the time of the decision,” Bernstein, 70 F.3d at 788, and may not
On abuse-of-discretion review, a plan administrator’s decision will be upheld if it is reasonable, i.e., if it resulted
from a “deliberate, principled reasoning process” and is “supported by substantial evidence.” Williams v. Metro.
Life Ins. Co., 609 F.3d 622, 630 (4th Cir. 2010). See also id. (listing factors courts should consider in reviewing the
reasonableness of a plan administrator’s decision”).
authorize “further discovery before a decision is made on the merits of the claim,” McCready v.
Standard Ins. Co., 417 F. Supp. 2d 684, 687 n.2 (D. Md. 2006).
Blanch argues that Chubb prevented him from meaningfully participating in its hearing
process by failing to disclose what the “cause” was in his “for cause” termination until after the
process was over. Indeed, Blanch alleges that Chubb first indicated to Blanch the nature of the
“cause” after Chubb had already denied his appeal. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 67; ECF No. 39-3 at 7
(suggesting that Blanch was terminated for “approv[ing] several inflated estimates by two
contractors from whom he accepted gifts and entertainment”).) Whether this delay arose from
bad faith may be a factor in this court’s determination of an appropriate remedy, Berry, 761 F.2d
at 1007 n.3, but it does not allow the court to order discovery.
Blanch also relies heavily on Weaver v. Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Co., 990
F.2d 154 (4th Cir. 1993). In Weaver, an insurance company denied medical benefits, failed to
provide any explanation for the denial, and admitted it did not know why the benefits were
denied. Id. at 158-59. The court held that “a remand for further action [was] unnecessary [ ]
because the evidence clearly show[ed] that [the insurance company] abused its discretion” when
it failed to “even remotely consider[ ] any specific reasons in denying the claim.” Id. at 159.
Weaver thus concerns the question of a remedy, not whether the court may order discovery.
For the reasons stated above, Blanch’s motion for discovery will be denied.
A separate order follows.
November 18, 2014
Catherine C. Blake
United States District Judge
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