Sendik et al v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company et al
DECISION AND ORDER signed by Magistrate Judge William E Duffin on 1/8/2017. IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 29 ) is granted. The Clerk shall enter judgment accordingly. (cc: all counsel) (mlm) Modified on 1/8/2018 (mlm).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
JON SENDIK AND SAL SENDIK,
Case No. 16-CV-1329
CIGNA HEALTH AND LIFE INSURANCE
COMPANY; MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL
LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY; AND
MASSMUTUAL AGENTS WELFARE BENEFITS
DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs John and Sal Sendik (Sal is John’s son) filed the present action against
Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance
Company, and MassMutual Agents’ Welfare Benefits Plan to claim dental benefits
under an ERISA-governed, self-funded, high-deductible health insurance plan. The
plan, MassMutual Agents’ Welfare Benefits Plan 506, was sponsored by John Sendik’s
employer, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, and administered by Cigna
Health and Life Insurance Company. The court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. § 1337 and 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e).
Sal Sendik was diagnosed with odontodyslplasia/odontogenesis imperfecta (ECF
No. 1, ¶ 9), a congenital abnormality in the development of the teeth (ECF No. 30 at 2,
fn. 3). He sought treatment from Dr. Christopher P. Sobczak, M.D., Dr. Benjamin S. Fiss,
D.D.S., and Dr. Daniel M. Weber, D.D.S., M.S. (Id. at ¶ 10.) The Sendiks were billed
$67,347 for the treatment. (Id. at ¶ 11.) The Sendiks requested that defendants cover the
costs of the treatment, defendants denied coverage, and the Sendiks appealed. (Id. at
The defendants upheld their original decision denying coverage for the
treatments on the ground that the plan “provides benefits only for covered expenses for
treatment or diagnosis of an injury or illness” and, “[a]ccording to MassMutual
Financial Group coverage, your plan does not cover surgical removal of erupted tooth
requiring elevation of mucoperiosteal flap and removal of bone and/or section of tooth.”
(ECF No. 28 at 171.)
The Sendiks filed a separate appeal and noted that:
Patient was born without teeth. Diagnosis of odontodysplasia was made
by pediatrician – supported by letter from Dr. Chrostopher Sobczak.
Surgery was needed so patient could eat. This bill was not included in
original appeal. This was necessary surgery and restoration. Necessary to
be able to chew.
(ECF No. 28 at 222.) The second appeal was denied on the ground that the services were
for surgical treatment to remove impacted teeth, which is not covered under the plan.
(Id. at 225.) Additionally, according to the plan booklet:
What’s Not Covered (not all-inclusive):
Your plan provides coverage for most medically necessary services.
Examples of things your plan does not cover, unless required by law,
include (but aren’t limited to):
Dental implants for any condition.
(ECF No. 28 at 225-26.)
The Sendiks allege that the denial was arbitrary and capricious because
did not have all relevant medical records in their possession, had not
discussed Sal’s medical condition and treatment with all of Sal’s treating
physicians and specialists, did not consider the severity and totality of his
condition, did not consider that the care provided by Sal’s doctors was
based upon recognized standards of health care for the treatment of
odontodysplasia/odontogenesis imperfecta, and failed to consider all
relevant information and data when determining that Sal’s care was not a
(ECF No. 1, ¶ 16.) The complaint contains three causes of action: for recovery of plan
benefits pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(A)(1)(B), for breach of fiduciary duty, and for an
award of attorneys’ fees. (Id. at 2-5.)
All parties consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge. (ECF Nos. 2, 9.)
On October 23, 2017, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No.
29.) Plaintiffs have not responded. The failure to file a response is, by itself, a sufficient
reason to grant the motion. See Civil L. R. 7(d). Even if it were not, defendants have
established that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The MassMutual Plan gives the claims administrator “full discretion and
fiduciary authority to determine claims and appeals arising under this Plan.” (ECF No.
28 at 68.) Absent fraud or bad faith, ERISA plans that vest the administrator with
discretionary authority to construe the plan’s terms or determine benefit eligibility are
reviewed under the arbitrary and capricious standard. Geiger v. Aetna Life Insurance Co.,
845 F.3d 357, 362 (7th Cir. 2017.) In interpreting an ERISA plan, federal common law
rules of contract interpretation apply. Neuma Inc. v. AMP, Inc., 259 F.3d 864, 873 (7th Cir.
2001). If a document governing an ERISA plan is unambiguous, the court does not look
beyond its “four corners” in interpreting its meaning. Id.
Under the MassMutual Plan, covered medical services are enumerated and must
be “medically necessary” for the care and treatment of a “sickness or injury” as
determined by Cigna. (ECF No. 1-3 at 28-39.) The plan provides coverage for “[c]harges
made for reconstructive surgery or therapy to repair or correct severe physical
disfigurement or deformity that is accompanied by functional deficit (other than
abnormalities of the jaw or conditions related to TMJ disorder)[.]” (ECF No. 1-3 at 36.)
The plan excludes coverage for
--Dental treatment of the teeth, gums or structures directly
supporting the teeth, including dental X-rays, examinations,
repairs, orthodontics, periodontics, casts, Splints and services for
dental malocclusion, for any condition. However, Charges made
for services or supplies provided for or in connection with an
accidental Injury to sound natural teeth are covered provided a
continuous course of dental treatment is started within six months
of the accident. Sound natural teeth are defined as natural teeth
that are free of active clinical decay, have at least 50% bony support
and are functional in the arch.
--Dental implants for any condition.
(ECF No. 1-3 at 40-41.)
Sal had a congenital, developmental abnormality present his entire life, with
treatment delayed until age 18 to allow for his jaw to stop growing so that the
procedure would only need to be done once. (ECF No. 30 at 6.) Defendants argue the
plan does not cover reconstructive surgery for abnormalities of the jaw, dental
treatment, and dental implants. As such, the plaintiffs’ claims are excluded from
Defendants have established they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law due
to the specific exclusion of coverage for dental benefits and implants for any reason. Dr.
Weber’s $23,750 claim is coded as: “Extraction Erupted Teeth,” “Bone Replacement
Graft,” “Surgical Placement of Implant,” and “Biologic Materials.” (ECF No. 28 at 265.)
Dr. Fiss’s original $55,397 claim was denied and re-submitted for $44,797. (ECF No. 30
at 8.) According to defendants, Cigna incorrectly reimbursed $22,510 of this claim as all
treatment codes describe treatment falling within excluded coverage. (Id.) The treatment
codes included occlusal orthotics, custom abutments, implant supported porcelain, and
labial veneers. (Id. at 9-10.) All of these are excluded based on the plan’s exclusions for
dental treatments and dental implants.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that defendants’ motion for summary judgment
(ECF No. 29) is granted. The Clerk shall enter judgment accordingly.
Dated at Milwaukee, Wisconsin this 8th day of January, 2018.
WILLIAM E. DUFFIN
U.S. Magistrate Judge
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