The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bucklo, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Koula Poulos was 59 years old in 1998 when Motorola cut off
her Long Term Disability Plan benefits after thirteen years,
determining, despite her being diagnosed with, among other
things, degenerative arthritis, osteoporosis, and depression,
that she was not disabled. She appeals this determination of the
Plan administrator, and I reverse it, ordering her benefits
Ms. Poulos was born in Greece in 1940. She came to this
country in 1962, and speaks little English. She did manual labor
for most of her working life, most recently, during 1983-85, as
an assembly line worker for Motorola. She was injured in 1985
and received benefits under the Motorola Long Term Disability
Plan ("the Plan") from 1985 to 1998. She also qualified upon
appeal for Social Security Disability payments ("SSI") in 1989
after initially being rejected for those benefits. The basis of
her disability claims was that she suffered a spinal impairment
that caused her severe back pain and limited her ability to move
and work. This was attested to by Dr. Spiro Stamelos, her
primary care physician, who has treated her over the last
decade. He stated that she suffered from severe osteoporosis
(bone weakening), pathological fractures, arthritis, weakness,
and clinical depression. He also noted that, at age 59, "we have
very little chance of re-educating and possibly reversing her
In 1998, Motorola terminated her disability benefits because
it concluded that she was not disabled. Motorola's decision was
based upon the determination of CORE, a medical review agency it
had recently engaged in part to assess disability claims. CORE's
Medical Director, Dr. J.D. Beavers, did not examine Ms. Poulos
in person, but looked at Dr. Stamelos' reports in her case file.
Dr. Beavers decided that Ms. Poulos was not disabled because Dr.
Stamelos reported that she could (1) lift up to 10 pounds
frequently and 10-25 pounds occasionally; (2) repetitively
perform fine finger movements, (3) reach above her shoulders and
move her head around, (4) sit for up to two hours, stand for up
to one hour, and walk for up to one hour. Motorola informed Ms.
Poulos of the decision to deny further benefits by phone and in
She appealed, and Motorola forwarded her file to an orthopedic
physician, Dr. Frank Nisenfeld, who also did not examine her
personally, but concluded from her file that her limitations as
described by Dr. Stamelos were not consistent with total
disability from any job. Dr. Stamelos ordered a nuclear medicine
bone scan, which came back with "no significant abnormalities,"
but noted some degenerative changes in the extremities, although
remarking that her condition had not essentially changed since
Ms. Poulos appealed again, and Motorola arranged for an actual
in-person examination by Dr. Slodoban Vucicevic, an orthopedic
surgeon, who concluded that "[t]his patient presents severe
limitation as far as her ability to go back to working regular
duties." Dr. Vucicevic said that she was capable of performing
light duty in sitting and standing positions and might be able
to do sedentary work. He noted degenerative arthritic changes,
osteoporosis, complete inability to squat and reduced ability to
stoop. He stated that she was an "interesting" patient.
Subsequently, in deposition testimony, Dr. Vucicevic explained
that he thought Ms. Poulos might be "to some degree" improved,
and stated that "whether she can be retrained remains to be
seen, and . . . that doing some clerical work is feasible. . . . ."
He said that a "trial" or attempt to place her in some
appropriate job rather than a specific release to return to a
particular occupation "would be a reasonable way to look at it
to see what she can and cannot do and go from there."
After Dr. Vucicevic's report, Motorola again denied Ms.
Poulos' appeal. She asked for reconsideration, including with
this request a report by Susan Entenberg, a certified
rehabilitation counselor, stating that in view of Ms. Poulos'
physical condition, age, lack of work history or English
language skills, Ms. Poulos "is unable to perform any jobs at
the sedentary level, sedentary with sit/stand options or light
level." Motorola did not respond, and Ms. Poulos filed this
lawsuit. Both parties now move for summary judgment. They agree
that the relevant evidence is in and that
there is nothing for a jury to try. Each party thinks the
evidence in the record supports judgment as a matter of law in
The first issue is the standard of review. The Plan is an
employee welfare benefit plan as defined in ERISA.
29 U.S.C. § 1002(1). Plenary or de novo review is presumed, Herzberger v.
Standard Ins. Co., 205 F.3d 327, 330 (7th Cir. 2000), but where
the plan gives the administrator discretion to interpret the
plan terms or determine benefits eligibility, courts review the
denial of benefit claims using the "arbitrary and capricious"
standard. Carr v. The Gates Health Care Plan, 195 F.3d 292,
294 (7th Cir. 1999); see Firestone Tire and Rubber v. Bruch,
489 U.S. 101, 115, 109 S.Ct. 948, 103 L.Ed.2d 80 (1989). If the
administrator makes an informed judgment and articulates an
explanation for it that is satisfactory in light of the relevant
facts, then the administrator's decision is final. Loyola Univ.
of Chicago v. Humana Ins. Co., 996 F.2d 895, 898 (7th Cir.
1993). Under the arbitrary and capricious standard, I do not
decide whether I would reach the same conclusion as the Plan
administrator, Mers v. Marriott International Group Accidental
Death and Dismemberment Plan, 144 F.3d 1014, 1021 (7th Cir.
1998). Instead, I am only to determine if the decision was
downright unreasonable. Id.
The Plan at issue here gives Motorola's Administrative
Committee the "express authority" to "construe and interpret the
Plan, decide all questions of fact and questions of eligibility,
and determine the amount, manner and time of payment of any
benefits hereunder, all in the sole discretion of such
decisionmaker." Section (8)(2)(b). This is equivalent to
language found to grant discretion in Carr, 195 F.3d at 295,
and similar to the "safe harbor" language the Seventh Circuit
says will provide for arbitrary and capricious review in
Herzberger, 205 F.3d 327, 330 ("Benefits under this plan will
be paid only if the plan administrator decides in his discretion
that the applicant is entitled to them.").
Ms. Poulos argues against the use of the discretionary
standard on the grounds that Motorola acted as her "adversary,"
first because it initially terminated her benefits without an
in-person examination and rejected the views of her treating
doctor. However, on appeal she received several in-person
examinations, and Motorola's rejection of Dr. Stamelos'
conclusions does not show that it is so adverse to her as to
forfeit deferential review.
The question before me, then, is whether the Committee was
"downright unreasonable" to conclude that Ms. Poulos is not
"disabled" under the Plan. The Plan language says that she is
disabled if her condition renders her unable "to perform all of
the normal duties of any occupation or employment for wage or
profit for which ...