United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER GRANTING IN PART MOTION TO COMPEL
GREGORY B. WORMUTH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Discovery and the accompanying briefing. Docs. 32, 34,
37. In his Motion, Plaintiff seeks to compel discovery
regarding Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's
(“MetLife”) dual role conflict of interest in
order to determine “the seriousness of the inherent
conflict and the likelihood that it jeopardized MetLife's
decisionmaking process” in denying Plaintiff's
ERISA claim. Doc. 32 at 2 (quoting Murphy v.
Deloitte & Touche Grp. Ins. Plan, 619 F.3d 1151,
1164 (10th Cir. 2010)).
March 22, 2018, counsel for Plaintiff emailed Plaintiff's
first interrogatories to MetLife. Doc. 32-1, Exs. A, B. On
April 3, 2018, counsel for MetLife emailed Plaintiff's
counsel in order to convey its preliminary position regarding
the proposed discovery requests. Doc. 32-1, Ex. C. In
response, Plaintiff filed his Motion to Compel on April 10,
2018, although he had not yet formally received any of
MetLife's discovery responses.Doc. 32. On April 23, 2018,
MetLife served its official responses to Plaintiff's
interrogatories. Doc. 34-1. Plaintiff filed a Notice of
Briefing Complete on May 16, 2018. Doc. 38.
noted above, the discovery disputes at hand relate to
Plaintiff's theory of the case that MetLife's dual
role conflict of interest influenced its decision to deny
Plaintiff's ERISA claim for long-term disability
benefits. See generally doc. 32. A dual role
conflict of interest exists when “a plan administrator
both evaluates claims for benefits and pays benefits
claims.” Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Glenn, 554
U.S. 105, 112 (2008). “In an ERISA case where . . . the
plan gives the administrator or fiduciary discretionary
authority to determine eligibility for benefits or to
construe the terms of the plan, we review the
administrator's decision for an abuse of
discretion.” Murphy, 619 F.3d at 1157
(internal quotations and citations omitted). This standard of
review applies “even when a conflict of interest
potentially affects the benefits decision.” Benson
v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., No.
2:10-CV-275-TS, 2011 WL 285831, at *2 (D. Utah Jan. 28, 2011)
(citing Glenn, 554 U.S. at 111). Under this
standard, courts generally may not consider materials outside
the administrative record. Murphy, 619 F.3d at 1162
(citing Sandoval v. Aetna Life & Cas. Ins. Co.,
967 F.2d 377, 380 (10th Cir. 1992)).
the Tenth Circuit recognizes a narrow exception to the
extra-record discovery prohibition, in which discovery of
documents related to an administrator's dual role
conflict of interest “may, at times, be
appropriate[.]” Id. Nevertheless, this
exception does not function as a green light to discovery
whenever such conflicts appear; rather, “discovery
related to a conflict of interest may often prove
inappropriate.” Id. at 1162-63.
determine the appropriateness of requested discovery relating
to a dual role conflict of interest, the Court must consider
the requested discovery pursuant to the familiar standards of
Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b). Id. at 1163. Under Fed.R.Civ.P.
26(b)(1), the scope of discovery is limited to “any
nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's
claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case. .
. . Information within this scope of discovery need not be
admissible in evidence to be discoverable.”
Id. The Tenth Circuit explained the application of
Rule 26(b) in ERISA discovery in Murphy:
First, while . . . ERISA seeks a fair and informed resolution
of claims, ERISA also seeks to ensure a speedy, inexpensive,
and efficient resolution of those claims. . . . And while
discovery may, at times, be necessary to allow a claimant to
ascertain and argue the seriousness of an administrator's
conflict, Rule 26(b), although broad, has never been a
license to engage in an unwieldy, burdensome, and speculative
fishing expedition. The party moving to supplement the record
or engage in extra-record discovery bears the burden of
showing its propriety. Second, in determining whether a
discovery request is overly costly or burdensome in light of
its benefits, the district court will need to consider the
necessity of discovery. For example, the benefit of allowing
detailed discovery related to the administrator's
financial interest in the claim will often be outweighed by
its burdens and costs because the inherent dual role conflict
makes that financial interest obvious . . . . Similarly, a
district court may be able to evaluate the effect of a
conflict of interest on an administrator by examining the
thoroughness of the administrator's review, which can be
evaluated based on the administrative record. . . . [A]
district court may allocate significant weight to a conflict
of interest where the record reveals a lack of thoroughness.
Murphy, 619 F.3d at 1163 (internal quotations and
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a), a party is permitted
to file a motion to compel responses to properly propounded
discovery. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a). A court may
limit discovery if a request is not “proportional to
the needs of the case, considering the importance of the
issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the
parties' relative access to relevant information, the
parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in
resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of
the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.”
statement that extra-record discovery is not entirely
precluded, due to the dual role conflict exception, does not
suffice to meet his burden to show that he is entitled to
discovery here. Doc. 32 at 2. See Murphy, 619 F.3d
at 1163 (“The party moving to . . . . engage in
extra-record discovery bears the burden of showing its
propriety.”). In other words, as previously stated, the
dual role conflict exception does not function as a green
light to discovery whenever such conflicts exist; Plaintiff
must also show that each request, individually, is
appropriate under the standards set forth in Rule 26(b).
Thus, MetLife's concession to the existence of its
financial conflicts of interest does not end the inquiry, and
it remains for the Court to determine the appropriateness of
Plaintiff's requests pursuant to Rule 26(b). The Court
considers each disputed Interrogatory or Request for
Production, in turn.
Nos. 2 and 3
Nos. 2 and 3, in conjunction, seek to compel MetLife to
“state the name, address, position, job title, and
affiliation to MetLife of . . . any  health or vocational
professional who rendered a report or opinion to MetLife,
examined records for MetLife, or examined the Plaintiff for
MetLife at any time. . . . [and] state how that person was
compensated and the exact amount of the compensation”
related to Plaintiff's disability claims and appeals.
Doc. 34-1 at 2-3. In response to these
interrogatories, MetLife stated that Dr. Taylor rendered
reports on July 22, 2016 and September 26, 2016, and was
compensated $1, 207.50 and $345.00, respectively.
Id. at 3. MetLife also responded that it would
produce a copy of the relevant consulting agreement with Dr.
Taylor, subject to the entry of a protective order. However,
as noted in Plaintiff's Reply, Interrogatory Nos. 2 and 3
are not limited to Dr. Taylor. Doc. 37 at 3. In fact,
Plaintiff identifies at least two other individuals who
contributed to opinions on which MetLife relied: Jacklyn
Stachnik and Nancy Brasefield. Id.
dispute boils down to whether MetLife should be required to
respond to Interrogatory Nos. 2 and 3 as they pertain to
professionals besides Dr. Taylor. MetLife opposes such a
requirement because it alleges that, beyond responsive
materials related to Dr. Taylor, the requested information is
not proportional to the needs of the case.See doc.
34 at 5-7. This argument is unpersuasive. While Dr.
Taylor may be the most significant health professional relied
upon by MetLife in Plaintiff's case, he is not the only
one. There is no reason to conclude that a conflict of
interest could not be revealed in MetLife's interaction
with other professionals involved in Plaintiff's case.
See Almeida v. Hartford Life Ins. Co., No.
09-CV-1556-ZLW-KLM, 2010 WL 743520, at *3 (D. Colo. Mar. 2,
2010) (holding that “the extent of any alleged conflict
of interest could be shown by how Defendant instructs third
party consultants, doctors and reviewers and/or whether
Defendant provides incentives to them.”). As for
proportionality, given MetLife's assertion that each
involved professional is identified in the administrative
record, it will not be burdensome to collect the information
sought in Interrogatory Nos. 2 and 3.
next opposes compulsion of this disclosure, stating that such
information is readily available to Plaintiff through review
of the administrative record. This argument is also
unpersuasive. First, information regarding compensation of
the relevant individuals is not readily available to
Plaintiff in the administrative record. Second, even if it
were, an answer to an interrogatory should be complete in
itself and should not refer to pleadings, depositions or
other documents. See, e.g., Lawman v. City & Cty. of
S.F., 159 F.Supp.3d 1130, 1140 (N.D. Cal. 2016);
Autoridad de Carreteras y Transportacion v. Transcore
Atlantic, Inc., 319 F.R.D. 422, 431 (D.P.R. 2016).
See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(b)(3) (“Each
interrogatory must, to the extent it is not objected to, be
answered separately and fully in writing under oath.”).
This approach ensures that the requesting party is aware of
the responding party's precise answer.
result, Plaintiff's Motion, as it relates to
Interrogatories 2 and 3, is GRANTED.
No. 7 requests that MetLife state the total number of times
that MetLife requested a medical opinion from Dr. Taylor from
2013 through 2016. Doc. 34-1 at 6. MetLife objected
that this request is overbroad to the extent that it seeks
information prior to 2015. Consequently, it ...