United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Kristine G. Baker United States District Judge
Evelyn Gayle Thompson brings this action against ConAgra
Foods, Inc., the Employee Benefits Administrative Committee,
and the ConAgra Foods, Inc. Long-Term Disability Plan X60
(collectively the “ConAgra defendants”) to
recover long-term disability benefits allegedly owed to her
under the ConAgra Foods, Inc. Long-Term Disability Plan X60
(the “Plan”), an employee benefits plan governed
by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA”). Before the Court is Ms. Thompson's
motion for judgment on the administrative record (Dkt. No.
47), to which the ConAgra defendants have responded (Dkt. No.
50) and Ms. Thompson has replied (Dkt. No. 51). For the
following reasons, the Court grants the ConAgra
defendants' motion for judgment.
Thompson worked for ConAgra for over 30 years, beginning as a
bookkeeper and eventually serving as the controller of the
ConAgra frozen food plant in Batesville, Arkansas (Dkt. No.
47, at 1). As an employee, Ms. Thompson participated in the
Plan, which entitled her to benefits in the event she became
disabled. The terms of the Plan provide that
(a) during the Elimination period and the next 24 months of
Disability you are, as a result of Injury or Sickness, unable
to perform the Material and Substantial Duties of your Own
Occupation, and (b) for the remainder of the maximum benefit
period you are, as a result of Injury or Sickness, unable to
perform with reasonable continuity the Material and
Substantial Duties of Any Occupation.
(Dkt. No. 50, at 4). The Plan defines “Any
Occupation” as “any occupation a participant
becomes reasonably fit to perform based on training,
education, experience, age, physical and mental
capacity” (Dkt. No. 50, at 4).
Thompson was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. She
underwent a mastectomy, which successfully removed the
cancerous tissue (Dkt. No. 47, at 3). The breast cancer
returned in 2005, but the cancer went into remission after
Ms. Thompson underwent surgery and chemotherapy.
August 2007, Ms. Thompson began to experience fatigue and
exhaustion (Dkt. No. 47, at 4). Her last day of work at
ConAgra was June 2, 2008 (Dkt. No. 50, at 2). On June 3,
2008, she had an ejection fraction of ten percent, and she
was later diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and congestive heart
failure (Dkt. No. 47, at 4). Eventually, doctors implanted a
biventricular implantable cardiac defibrillator.
Thompson continues to have health issues, some of which the
ConAgra defendants dispute (Dkt. No. 47, at 4; No. 50, at
14-15). Ms. Thompson also suffers from mental health issues,
including anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), some of
which the ConAgra defendants also dispute (Dkt. No. 47, at 4;
No. 50, at 15-16).
December 2, 2008, Ms. Thompson was granted long-term
disability benefits under the Plan (Dkt. No. 50, at 5) after
Dr. Robert Morrision, who reviewed the case for ConAgra,
concluded that “she was disabled . . . and that her
condition ‘rarely improves'” (Dkt. No. 47, at
2). From 2008 to May 13, 2013, she continued receiving
disability benefits. In 2009, she was also awarded Social
Security Disability benefits (Dkt. No. 47, at 2).
Plan requires participants occasionally to provide proof of
disability in order to continue receiving benefits. ConAgra
approved Ms. Thompson's eligibility for benefits several
times from 2008 to 2013 (Dkt. No. 47, at 2-3). However, on
May 13, 2013, ConAgra informed Ms. Thompson that she
“no longer met the definition of ‘Disabled'
under the LTD Plan” after determining that, even with
her health issues, she could work as a treasurer or
department manager in Batesville, Arkansas (Dkt. No. 50, at
10). She appealed the denial of her claim for future benefits
(Dkt. No. 50, at 11), and her appeal was denied on January 6,
2014 (Dkt. No. 50, at 16). Rather than file a second appeal
request, which she was entitled to do under the Plan, Ms.
Thompson sought judicial review of the decision in the
Circuit Court of Independence County, Arkansas (Dkt. No. 47,
at 3). Her action was removed to this Court.
The Review Process
Plan provides that, in order to receive disability benefits,
the employee must furnish proof of disability and that the
employee requires the regular attendance of a physician (AR
803). Benefits under the Plan continue for the duration of
the disability, so long as the employee provides to the Plan
Administrator proof of continued (1) disability; (2) regular
attendance of a physician; and (3) appropriate available
treatment (AR 803). Proof must be provided upon request by
the Plan Administrator.