Wolff v. Aetna Life Insurance Company
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re: 80 MOTION for Extension of Time to Complete Discovery and to Compel Discovery Responses filed by Joanne Wolff. Signed by Honorable Matthew W. Brann on 7/15/2021. (jr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
AETNA LIFE INSURANCE CO,
JULY 15, 2021
At all relevant times, Plaintiff was insured by a long-term disability benefits
plan issued by Defendant Aetna Life Insurance Co.1 After being in a motorvehicle accident, Plaintiff submitted a claim to Aetna for long-term disability
benefits.2 Plaintiff also, however, settled with the other driver involved in the
accident and received compensation.3 Aetna subsequently sought reimbursement
from Plaintiff’s settlement under the terms of the insurance policy.4
Plaintiff then initiated this action under the Employment Retirement Income
Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”).5 Plaintiff asserts that, by seeking reimbursement
Doc. 40 at ¶ 6.
Id. at ¶ 9.
Id. at ¶ 12.
Id. at ¶ 13.
from Plaintiff’s settlement, Aetna violated both the terms of the policy and
Pennsylvania law. Plaintiff now seeks discovery of a list of all persons who were
issued policies under the same long-term disability plan that Plaintiff’s policy was
based on.6 Aetna contends that any such list is irrelevant because Plaintiff’s claims
arise under Pennsylvania law; they thus argue that class-based discovery should be
limited to residents of the Commonwealth.
Plaintiff’s motion is now ripe for disposition; for the following reasons, it is
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) allows parties to “obtain discovery
regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense
and proportional to the needs of the case.” Consequently, the only issue before the
Court is whether discovery regarding potential class members outside of the state
of Pennsylvania is relevant to Plaintiff’s claims under ERISA. Aetna argues that
this discovery is irrelevant because Plaintiff’s asserts claims only under state law.
But Aetna misconstrues the allegations in the second amended complaint,
which clearly assert that Aetna violated both Pennsylvania law and the terms of the
policy.7 Although the scope of ERISA’s preemption is broad, state laws may still
Doc. 80. Plaintiff also seeks a list of any person who was subrogated against by Aetna. Doc.
E.g., Doc. 44 at ¶¶ 4, 15, 17, 23, 35-41, 44, 45, 46, 48, 88-91, 95-96, 98, 141-45, 148.
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govern ERISA claims where they fall within the statute’s “savings clause.”8 The
Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law is one such state statute
“saved” by ERISA.9 It is undisputed that Plaintiff asserts a claim that Aetna
violated the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law.
Accordingly, Defendants do not contest that Plaintiff is entitled to class-based
discovery regarding possible class members residing in the state of Pennsylvania.
Plaintiff also asserts, however, that Aetna violated the express terms of its
long-term disability policy. This claim is based on policy language, and is thus
governed by federal common law.10 As a result, the pool of potential class
members is broader than that which might be available if Plaintiff only asserted a
claim under Pennsylvania law. This is because the federal nature of the claim
implicates any plan participant who was issued this specific policy, not simply
those who could invoke the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility
Because it is evident to the Court that Plaintiff alleges that Aetna violated
both Pennsylvania law and the terms of the plan, the Court concludes that
discovery of potential class members outside of Pennsylvania is appropriate. The
Court further finds unpersuasive and unsupported Aetna’s claim that Plaintiff
Levine v. United Healthcare Corp., 402 F.3d 156, 164 (3d Cir. 2005).
FMC Corp. v. Holliday, 498 U.S. 52, 58-65 (1990); Doc. 40.
See Freitas v. Geisinger Health Plan, 2021 WL 2156740, at *4 (M.D. Pa. May 27, 2021).
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should be judicially estopped from seeking discovery regarding a nationwide
class.11 Consequently, Plaintiff’s motion to compel discovery is granted.
An appropriate Order follows.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Matthew W. Brann
Matthew W. Brann
United States District Judge
Aetna does not offer the elements of judicial estoppel, instead focusing on the alleged
impropriety of Plaintiff’s discovery delays.
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