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Crews v. Prudential Insurance Co. of America

September 6, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garnett Thomas Eisele United States District Judge


Presently before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. The Defendant's Motion will be granted and the Plaintiff's Motion will be denied. Judgment will be entered in favor of the Defendant.

I. Background

Plaintiff began employment as a general factory worker for American Greetings Corporation in Osceola, Arkansas on April 29, 1991. Plaintiff left work on February 15, 2001 after diagnoses of osteoarthritis in her right hand and subacromial bursitis. She attempted to return to work on March 31, 2001, but was unable to continue and last worked on April 5, 2001. Effective October 3, 2001, Defendant approved Plaintiff' application for long-term disability benefits with the following condition:

After 24 months of payments, you are disabled when Prudential determines that due to the same sickness or injury, you are unable to perform the duties of any gainful occupation for which you are reasonably fitted by education, training or experience. (AR0091). By letter dated July 8, 2003, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's long-term disability benefits, after determining that Plaintiff was not "disabled" because she was capable of sedentary work.*fn1 (AR0293). The letter listed the following positions as appropriate for Defendant's education, training, and experience: Document Preparer, Microfilming; Assembler, Semiconductor; Order Clerk, Food and Beverage; and Bonder, Semiconductor.

On reconsideration, Prudential upheld its decision to terminate benefits in a letter dated August 21, 2003. (AR0606). Defendant states that it spoke with two of Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Brandt and Dr. Roberts, who both advised that Plaintiff was capable of certain types of occupations , such as Call Out Operator and Surveillance-System Monitor.*fn2

Plaintiff appealed a second time and provided Prudential with a vocational report that concluded she was totally unemployable. Plaintiff also submitted medical reports citing to psychiatric illnesses. By letter dated June 24, 2004, Defendant declined to change its position. Prudential reiterated many of the points highlighted in its earlier letters. Defendant references Dr. Roberts' files which reflect that Plaintiff's condition was essentially unchanged from 1999 to 2004. Prudential, having concluded that any medical maladies suffered by Plaintiff did not amount to a disability, repeated its belief that Plaintiff's conditions did not prevent her from working in a reasonably suitable sedentary occupation.

On July 28, 2004, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Craighead County, Arkansas against Prudential Insurance Company of America. Defendant removed the action to this Court on the ground that ERISA preempted Plaintiff's alleged state law claims.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only when, in reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial-- whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit set out the burdens of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. M.K. Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338 (8th Cir. 1988):

[T]he burden on the party moving for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e., '[to] point[] out to the District Court,' that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.

Id. at 1339 (quoting City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-74 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations ...

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