ERISA- Seventh Circuit Rules Overturns District Court’s Grant Of Long-Term Disability Benefits

In Cheney v. Standard Ins. Co., No. 15‐1794 (7th Cir. 2016), Carole Cheney was an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis, LLP (“Kirkland”) for approximately 20 years. She became a partner at the firm in 1997. She suffered from a spinal disease that first led her to seek accommodations in 1994, and ultimately resulted in a three‐level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion and removal of her vertebra in 2012.

Although Cheney had managed to work for many years despite her condition, by 2012 she had had enough, and so she submitted a claim for long‐term disability benefits in July 2012. Standard Insurance Company (“Standard”), Kirkland’s insurer, denied her claim based on a finding that her coverage had ended in March of 2012, and that she was able at least through March to perform her job. After Standard refused to reconsider its position, Cheney sued under ERISA in federal district court. The court found in favor of Cheney, and Standard appeals.

Upon reviewing the case, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals determined that  the district court made unsupported factual findings and misinterpreted the governing documents. Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court’s decision and remanded the case for a new trial.

 

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