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Price v. Sherwin-Williams Co. Group Life Insurance Plan

November 18, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge


I. Background

Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Review Magistrate Judge's Order Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72 (Doc. 48). Plaintiff seeks to appeal the January 3, 2008 Order issued by Magistrate Judge Proud, denying Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Depositions of Defendant Minnesota Life Insurance Company's Employees and granting Defendant Minnesota Life and Sherwin-William's motion for protective order (Doc. 45).

Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on January 16, 2007, and Sherwin-Williams and Minnesota Life brought motions to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the insurance policy was an ERISA plan which preempted Plaintiff's state law claims. While the motions to strike and dismiss were pending, Plaintiff commenced written discovery and learned two employees in the claims department at Minnesota Life recommended that Plaintiff's claims should be paid. (Doc. 49, p. 3). Plaintiff also discovered, through written discovery, that Sherwin-Williams agreed with the Minnesota Life personnel that the claim should be paid. Id. In addition, Plaintiff discovered that Minnesota Life had waived the coverage provision that was at issue in the case, the provision regarding "actively at work." Id. Minnesota Life had used the provision as its basis in denying Plaintiff's claim. Id.

Based on its findings during written discovery, Plaintiff noticed up the deposition of the two employees at Minnesota Life who recommended the claim be paid, the author of the letter waiving the "actively at work" provision, and the author of the denial letter. Defendants Minnesota Life and Sherwin-Williams believed that ERISA barred discovery beyond the administrative record and given the motions regarding the applicability of ERISA and the Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint in order to add a claim based on ERISA, Minnesota Life and Sherwin-Williams argued Plaintiff was not permitted discovery beyond the administrative record and refused the deposition notices. (Doc. 39). Plaintiff moved to compel the depositions, while Minnesota Life and Sherwin-Williams sought a protective order to prevent the depositions. (Docs. 36 & 40).

In his Order denying the motion to compel and granting the protective order, Magistrate Judge Proud found that discovery should be limited to the administrative record until the Court decided whether ERISA preempted the state law matters. Judge Proud noted that if the defendant insurer was correct and ERISA preempted all state law claims and the scope of discovery was limited to the administrative record, then discovery would be complete. However, if the Plaintiff was correct, then the depositions of the employees would need to take place. Judge Proud denied Plaintiff's motion to compel and granted Minnesota Life and Sherwin-Williams' protective order until such time as the Court indicated otherwise.

On March 10, 2008, this Court issued its Order regarding the preemption of state claims by ERISA. The Court found that the benefit plan fit within the meaning of ERISA and as an ERISA plan, the state-law claims for breach of contract were therefore preempted under ERISA. (Doc. 56, p. 9). The Court granted both Minnesota Life's motion to strike and dismiss and Sherwin-Williams' motion to dismiss. Further, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint asserting an ERISA claim for benefits due against the proper defendant, Sherwin-Williams Company Group Life Insurance Plan. (Doc. 56, p. 12). Subsequently, on April 10, 2008, the Court inadvertently dismissed as moot Plaintiff's Motion for Review of the Magistrate's Order per the Court's Order on March 10, 2008. On October 8, 2008, the Plaintiff filed a motion for oral arguments because the matter had not been ruled on. (Doc. 67). The Defendant, Sherwin-Williams Company Group Life Insurance Plan, filed a response to the motion for oral arguments arguing that the Court had all of the necessary documents before it for ruling. (Doc. 69). Having considered the arguments before it, the Court rules as follows.

II. Legal Standard

Under Local Rule 73.1(a) of the Southern District of Illinois and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), a district judge may modify or set aside a magistrate judge's decision only if the decision is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). A decision is clearly erroneous when "the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Anderson v. City of Bessemer, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985) (quoting United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). This means that a district judge can only overturn a decision "if the district court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co. Ltd., 126 F.3d 926, 943 (7th Cir. 1997).

District Courts are given broad discretion on matters related to discovery. Weeks, 126 F.3d at 943. If there are two permissible views, the reviewing court will not overturn the decision solely because it would have chosen the other view.

III. Analysis

A. Motion for Oral Argument

The Court first notes that Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Oral Arguments pursuant to his motion for review of Order (Doc. 67). The Court notes that the motion for review of Order (Doc. 48) was inadvertently terminated pursuant to the Order dismissing Minnesota Life and Sherwin-Williams (Doc. 56). Plaintiff's motion to review order should not have been dismissed by the Order granting motions to dismiss and strike (Doc. 56) and the Court apologizes for the termination of the motion. Due to the inadvertent termination of the Motion for Review (Doc. 48), the Court never made a ruling on the motion. However, the Court now ...

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