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Walker v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 2, 2016

Lora Walker, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company, Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: May 19, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          RILEY, Chief Judge.

         Lora Walker, a senior planning analyst for Hennepin County, Minnesota, was insured under a group long-term disability policy the county obtained from Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company (Hartford).[1] In April 2009, Walker filed a claim for disability benefits based on her Type I diabetes. Hartford denied the claim. In May 2014, Walker, a Minnesota citizen, sued Hartford, a Connecticut citizen, in Minnesota state court, alleging breach of contract. Hartford timely removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction and moved for summary judgment. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a)(1), 1441(a), 1446. Walker moved for partial summary judgment. The district court[2] granted Hartford summary judgment, concluding Walker's suit was untimely under the policy. The district court denied Walker's cross-motion as moot. Walker appeals.[3] We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For years, the county permitted Walker to work from home full-time. In 2008, Walker's new supervisor advised Walker she would have to work at a county office two days a week. Walker, for the first time in January 2008, informed the county she had diabetes and asked that she be allowed to work from home so she could test her blood and take insulin as needed. Walker complained the county office lacked sufficient privacy and a safe, sanitary, and effective place to take insulin.

         When the county refused to accommodate Walker and let her work full-time from home, as her doctor recommended, Walker ended her employment. Although she worked part-time through December 2008, Walker's last full day of work was June 17, 2008. On April 8, 2009, Walker filed a claim for disability benefits under the Hartford policy. Hartford denied the claim initially and on appeal, concluding Walker failed to show she could not perform her essential job duties.[4]

         In May 2014, Walker sued Hartford for breach of contract in Minnesota state court. Hartford removed the case to federal court and later moved for summary judgment, arguing Walker's suit (1) was untimely under the policy's limitation period, and (2) even if timely, failed on the merits. Walker cross-moved for partial summary judgment on several grounds. The district court referred the case to a magistrate judge for disposition.

         After conducting a hearing, the magistrate judge recommended the district court grant summary judgment to Hartford because Walker's suit was untimely under the policy. The magistrate judge also recommended denying Walker's cross-motion as moot. In a summary order, the district court denied Walker's objections and adopted the report and recommendation in full. Walker appeals, challenging the district court's interpretation of Minnesota law which governs the policy.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Choice of Law and Standards of Review

         The parties agree Minnesota substantive law applies to this diversity case. See Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). The Supreme Court of Minnesota has not addressed the issues raised in this appeal, so "[w]e must predict how [it] would rule, and we follow decisions of the intermediate state court when they are the best evidence of Minnesota law." Friedberg v. Chubb & Son, Inc., 691 F.3d 948, 951 (8th Cir. 2012). We review de novo the district court's interpretation of Minnesota law and its summary judgment rulings. See Bannister v. Bemis Co., 556 F.3d 882, 884 (8th Cir. 2009). We also review de novo Walker's constitutional claims. See United States v. Meirick, 674 F.3d 802, 804 (8th Cir. 2012). Summary judgment is required "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         B. Plain Meaning

         Hartford's group policy required Walker to initiate any legal action against Hartford within "three years after the time written Proof of Loss is required to be furnished according to the terms of the Policy." The policy required Walker to send proof of loss "within 90 days after the start of the period for which [Hartford] owe[d] payment." Based on the policy terms and the undisputed facts in the record, the district court correctly determined Walker "could not take legal action against Hartford after December 15, 2011." Because Walker did not file suit until May 2014, the district court concluded Walker's suit was time-barred.

         Walker does not dispute the district court's calculations under the policy or argue that her suit was timely under the policy's limitation period. Rather, Walker argues the policy's limitation period does not apply at all. According to Walker, "[t]he District Court should be reversed because Chapter 62A, when read in its entirety, is intended to provide the protections of Minn. Stat. §62A.04 to insureds under group policies" like hers and Hartford's proof-of-loss language does not comply.

         Walker's arguments turn on issues of statutory interpretation. Under Minnesota law, "[t]he object of all interpretation and construction of laws is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature." Minn. Stat. § 645.16. "We interpret a statute 'as a whole so as to harmonize and give effect to all its parts, and where possible, no word, phrase, or sentence will be held superfluous, void, or insignificant.'" 328 Barry Ave., LLC v. Nolan Props. Grp., LLC, 871 N.W.2d 745, 749 (Minn. 2015) (quoting Jackson v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 770 N.W.2d 487, 496 (Minn. 2009)). "'When the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, it is assumed to manifest legislative intent and must be given effect.'" Allan v. R.D. Offutt Co., 869 N.W.2d 31, 33 (Minn. 2015) (quoting Burkstrand v. Burkstrand, 632 N.W.2d 206, 210 (Minn. ...


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