Collins v. 3M Company et al
ORDER denying 35 ORDER RE: APPEAL/OBJECTION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE DECISION to District Judge(Written Opinion) Signed by Senior Judge David S. Doty on 10/11/2017. (DLO)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Civil No. 17-529(DSD/DTS)
3M Company, fka Minnesota Mining &
3M Disability Programs,
3M Disability and Leave Center, and
Sedgwick Claims Management
Megan A. Spriggs, Esq. and R.A. Williams Law Firm, 2400 County
Road D West, Suite 110, St. Paul, MN 55112, counsel for
Christopher M. Busey, Esq., Erin K. Fogarty Lisle, Esq. and
Berens & Miller, P.A., 80 South 8th Street, Suite 3720,
Minneapolis, MN 55402, counsel for defendants.
This matter is before the court upon plaintiff’s appeal of
the September 1, 2017, order of Magistrate Judge David T. Shultz.
In the order, the magistrate judge denied plaintiff’s request to
allow fact and expert discovery.
The standard of review applicable to an appeal of a magistrate
judge’s order on nondispositive matters is “extremely deferential.”
Reko v. Creative Promotions, Inc., 70 F. Supp. 2d 1005, 1007 (D.
The court will reverse such an order only if it is
clearly erroneous or contrary to law. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); D.
Minn. LR 72.2(a)(3).
After a thorough review of the file and
record, the court finds that the order is neither clearly erroneous
nor contrary to law.
This insurance benefit dispute arises out of defendants’
denial of short-term disability benefits to plaintiff Cynthia
Collins, a 3M employee.1
On June 16, 2016, Collins applied for
short-term disability benefits for her absence beginning June 15.
submitted the required attending physician statement from her
Id. ¶ 19.
On July 6, 3M received the attending
physician statement, but maintained its denial of her claim.
id. ¶¶ 22-23.
On July 7, Collins appealed 3M’s decision.
During the appeals process, 3M sought a review of Collins’s
claim by an independent physician advisor, Dr. Daniel Harrop, and
informed Collins that he would contact her physician and therapist,
or, alternatively, her physician and therapist could call him to
schedule a phone conference.
Id. ¶¶ 26-27; Spriggs Aff. Ex. C at
Collins alleges that although her physician contacted Dr.
Harrop on July 19, he never returned the calls or spoke with her
The court will refer to defendants 3M Company, 3M Disability
Programs, and 3M Disability and Leave Center collectively as 3M.
physician or therapist.
Id. ¶¶ 28-30.
On August 16, 3M denied
Collins brought this suit in state court
disability benefits and breached its fiduciary duties.
timely removed the action to this court.
On July 14, 2017, Collins requested that the magistrate judge
grant expert and fact discovery concerning whether a conflict of
interest or a serious procedural irregularity existed that affected
the administrator’s decision.
judge denied the request.
On September 15, the magistrate
Collins now appeals.
Standard for Discovery
Generally, under ERISA, review of the administrator’s decision
is “limited to evidence that was before the administrator.”
v. ReliaStar Life Ins. Co., 615 F.3d 941, 945 (8th Cir. 2010).
review, and discouraged on de novo review.”
Brown v. Seitz Foods,
Inc. Disability Benefit Plan, 140 F.3d 1198, 1200 (8th Cir. 1998).
But a court may allow additional discovery if the plaintiff shows
A plaintiff can show good cause by establishing
that the administrative record is insufficient to establish a
See Farley v. Ark. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 147
F.3d 774, 776 n.4 (8th Cir. 1998) (“A palpable conflict of interest
or serious procedural irregularity will ordinarily be apparent on
the face of the administrative record or will be stipulated to by
Thus, the district court will only rarely need to
permit discovery and supplementation of the record to establish
However, even if a plaintiff can show a conflict
necessarily entitle a plaintiff to discovery.
See Jones, 615 F.3d
at 945 (upholding district court’s denial of discovery where plan
administrator admitted there was a conflict of interest).
Conflict of Interest
whether 3M’s relationship with Sedgwick constitutes a conflict of
Collins relies on two voicemail messages left to
Sedgwick by her supervisors inquiring as to the status of her leave
and requesting guidance as to how to fill her position.
Spriggs Aff. Ex. C at 9.
But there is no evidence that the
supervisors attempted to influence Sedgwick to deny Collins’s
claim. Therefore, her argument rests on mere speculation and fails
to show good cause. See Westbrook v. Georgia-Pac. Corp., No. 4:05CV-01331, 2006 WL 2772822, at *4 (E.D. Ark. Sept. 26, 2006)
(internal quotation marks omitted) (“It is not enough to allege
generally that a conflict of interest may exist or that the case
may have procedural irregularities.”).
Even if one could infer a
possible conflict of interest from the administrative record,
Collins has failed to argue why the record, as currently developed,
precludes her from properly pursuing her claim. As already stated,
the existence of a possible or actual conflict of interest does not
automatically justify additional discovery. See Jones, 615 F.3d at
945 (noting that additional discovery is discouraged even where the
court reviews an administrator’s decision de novo).
the magistrate judge’s conclusion that an alleged conflict of
interest did not justify discovery was not clearly erroneous or
contrary to law.
III. Procedural Irregularities
Initial Claim Denial
Collins argues that Sedgewick’s initial denial of her benefits
claim was a serious procedural irregularity because it was not
based on her medical condition, but rather on her physician’s
failure to submit documentation in support of her claims.
argues that Sedgwick should have done more to obtain the required
documentation, but it was not obligated to do so.
alone was responsible for timely submitting documents to Sedgwick.
See ECF No. 37, Ex B at 8.2
As a result, the initial denial of her
claim was proper under the plan and did not constitute a serious
Because defendants did not attach their exhibits to an
affidavit, the court will refer to the exhibit by its electronic
filing document number.
Collins next contends that Dr. Harrop was biased because he
provided no support for his conclusion that neither Collins’s
condition nor medication impacted her ability to work.
argues that discovery is necessary in order to establish Dr.
Harrop’s motivation in reviewing her claim, but the court is not
First, it is not true that Dr. Harrop provided no support for
Dr. Harrop based his conclusion on observations,
among others, that “self reported psychiatric complaints do not
medication schedule documented does not interfere with cognition or
other day-to-day functioning,” and “there is no corroborative or
clinical documentation detailing abnormalities in claimant’s dayto-day routine due to her psychiatric symptoms.”
C at 15.
Spriggs Aff. Ex.
Second, even if Dr. Harrop erred in reviewing Collins’s
claim, it does not necessarily follow that he was influenced by an
Collins’s suggestion that Dr. Harrop was biased
amounts to a mere allegation, which does not justify additional
Even if the initial denial was somehow improper, it was not
a serious procedural error because Sedgwick ultimately considered
the medical documentation submitted by Collins’s treating
independent review were sufficient to permit discovery, additional
discovery would be allowed in virtually all ERISA cases.
Finally, Collins argues that there is a factual inconsistency
that shows a serious procedural error.
points out that her physician never received voicemail messages
from Dr. Harrop despite Dr. Harrop’s notes to the contrary.
Spriggs Aff. Ex. C at 1; id. Ex. G.
The court cannot reconcile the
record in this regard, but it is not necessary to do so.
Dr. Harrop never contacted Collins’s physician, Collins cites no
authority establishing that it was a breach of fiduciary duty, much
less one that “give[s] rise to serious doubts about whether the
result reached was the product of an arbitrary decision.”
v. Mercantile Bancorporation, Inc. Long Term Disability Plan, 498
F.3d 805, 809 (8th Cir. 2007) (citation and internal quotation
administrators ... accord special deference to the opinions of
treating physicians” or “impose a heightened burden of explanation
on administrators when they reject a treating physician’s opinion.”
Black & Decker Disability Plan v. Nord, 538 U.S. 822, 830-31
As a result, the magistrate judge’s decision to
deny discovery was not clearly erroneous or contrary to law.4
Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff’s appeal [ECF
No. 35] is denied.
Dated: October 11, 2017
s/David S. Doty
David S. Doty, Judge
United States District Court
Collins also notes that defendants indicated that they were
willing to produce certain documents subject to the court entering
a protective order. This fact, however, is irrelevant to the
court’s analysis, and Collins does not provide any authority to the
contrary. Furthermore, defendants have represented to the court
that they are still willing to provide such documents “subject to
the Court entering a mutually agreeable protective order and
Defs.’ Resp. at 6 n.1.
encourages the parties to continue to negotiate in good faith on
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