In Demer v. IBM Corporation LTD Plan, No. 13-17196 (9th Cir. 2016), the district court had granted summary judgment to the defendants in an action under ERISA challenging the denial of a claim for long-term disability benefits. However, a panel of judges belonging to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Panel”) reversed the district court’s decision.
The Panel first held that Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”), the ERISA plan’s claims administrator and insurer, had a conflict of interest such that the court’s abuse of-discretion review should be tempered by some skepticism because of the financial conflict of the independent physician consultants (“IPCs”) upon whom MetLife relied (the IPCs have done a substantial number of reviews for Metlife and received significant compensation from MetLife for their services).
The Panel then held that MetLife abused its discretion because it did not find that the plaintiff’s mental capacity was affected in any way by the medications he was taking for his physical pain, and improperly rejected the credibility of his complaints of fatigue and difficulty concentrating, based on the opinions of two IPCs who did not examine him and did not explain why they rejected his credibility. The Panel held that in light of the totality of the circumstances, including the financial conflict of interest of the IPCs and substantial evidence of the plaintiff’s physical limitations, MetLife abused its discretion in denying the plaintiff’s claim for benefits.
The Panel remanded the case to the district court, with instructions to remand to MetLife to re-evaluate the merits of the plaintiff’s long-term disability claim.