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Burden v. CSX Transportation

October 21, 2010


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


Before the Court is Defendant's Local Rule 73.1 Request for Review of the Magistrate Judge's Order*fn1 Regarding Production of United Healthcare Documents (Doc. 82) and supporting memorandum (Doc. 83). The Magistrate Judge's October 15, 2010 Order was in regard to a discovery dispute between the Parties (Doc. 79). This dispute centered around Plaintiff's Amended Notice of Deposition Duces Tecum of Defendant's Chief Medical Officer Thomas J. Nelson, M.D. (hereinafter, the "Notice") (Doc. 83, Ex. A). Out of the seven categories of documents the Notice instructed Dr. Nielson to produce, Defendant objected to two: Category 5: "All contracts and agreements between CSX Transportation and United Healthcare (UHC)"; and Category 7: "All protocols, writings, policies, reports, documents, procedures, contracts, agreements, correspondence, emails, and electronic communication pertaining to the medical management by UHC of CSX funds" ( Id . at 2).

To explain, Plaintiff entered an inpatient rehabilitation program in July 2010 at NeuroRestorative in Carbondale, Illinois. Plaintiff sought coverage for his treatment under his healthcare plan beyond September 27, 2010. Plaintiff is covered under a self-funded healthcare benefit plan Defendant provides as a result of collective bargaining with its employees (Doc. 83, p. 2). Defendant states that this self-funded healthcare benefit plan is administered in accordance with plan guidelines by UHC ( Id .). Further, Defendant states that the plan is an employee welfare benefit plan within the meaning of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1) ( Id .). On September 27, 2010, UHC denied Plaintiff's request, stating that the inpatient healthcare services at NeuroRestorative were not covered by his health benefit plan (Doc. 83, Ex. B).

Defendant bases its objections to the production of documents listed in Categories 5 and 7 of Plaintiff's Notice based on the argument that Plaintiff's request to conduct discovery on the reason behind UHC's denial of continued coverage for his treatment at NeuroRestorative is completely preempted by ERISA and therefore, irrelevant to Plaintiff's claims under FELA. Thus, Defendant asserts that allowing Plaintiff to conduct discovery on this issue will not lead to admissible evidence but will only take up a significant amount of time in the last couple of weeks prior to trial and that it is too late in this case for Plaintiff to add an ERISA claim to his Complaint.

It appears to Defendant that Plaintiff thinks his denial of coverage, while ostensibly based on UHC's review of the terms and conditions of the plan, was actually dictated by Defendant as the entity that funds the plan (Doc. 83, p. 3). Defendant argues that Plaintiff has already been notified by Defendant's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Neilson, that Defendant has no control over the coverage decisions made by UHC and that UHC acted independently in denying coverage ( Id ., Exs. B & D). Defendant also acknowledges that the Magistrate Judge's Order did limit the scope of Plaintiff's requests somewhat (Doc. 82, ¶ 3).

However, because during the discovery dispute conference between the Magistrate Judge and the Parties, Defendant was not privy to a portion of the conference occurring exclusively between the Magistrate Judge and Plaintiff's counsel, Defendant can now only surmise that the Magistrate Judge's Order, which gives no rationale supporting the decision, was based "only on Plaintiff's good faith belief that the UHC documents are relevant to his FELA action" (Doc. 83, p. 5).*fn2

Defendant argues that the Magistrate Judge's ruling was clearly erroneous and contrary to law because of ERISA preemption, citing Aetna Health, Inc. v. Davila , 542 U.S. 200, 210 (2004) , and the lack of relevance of the UHC documents to Plaintiff's FELA action (Doc. 82, ¶¶ 4-5).

When attempting to appeal a decision of a Magistrate Judge, Local Rule 73.1(a) provides:

Any party may appeal a Magistrate Judge's order determining a motion or matter within 14 days after issuance of the Magistrate Judge's order, unless a different time is prescribed by the Magistrate Judge or a District Judge. The party shall file with the Clerk of Court and serve on all parties a written request for an appeal which shall specifically designate the order or part of the order that the parties wish the Court to reconsider. A District Judge shall reconsider the matter and shall set aside any portion of the Magistrate Judge's order found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law. A District Judge may also reconsider sua sponte any matter determined by a Magistrate Judge under this rule.

Also, under F EDERAL R ULE OF C IVIL P ROCEDURE 72(a) , the Court may modify or reverse a decision of a magistrate judge on a non-dispositive issue upon a showing that the magistrate judge's decision is "clearly erroneous or contrary to the law." A finding 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)); see also Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. , 126 F.3d 926, 943 (7th Cir. 1997)("The clear error standard means that the district court can overturn the magistrate judge's ruling only if the district court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.") .

Although any claim Plaintiff may have for denial of coverage may be preempted by ERISA, the Court does not agree with Defendant that such evidence may not be relevant pertaining to Plaintiff's FELA claims in this case. The issue of preemption does not come into play currently, as Plaintiff is not seeking a ruling from the Court on the issue of coverage under his health care plan provided by Defendant and managed by UHC. It appears to this Court that Plaintiff may be simply trying to determine any motivation on Defendant's part regarding its handling of Plaintiff as its employee and whether anything has been done in contravention of the FELA. In this sense, the Court cannot find the ruling of the Magistrate Judge at issue herein to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

It should be noted that Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant's motion at 3:48 PM this date, but the Court has not read pleading and does not know the position taken by the Plaintiff and for that reason makes no reference to arguments made by Plaintiff. The Court, in the interest of an expedient order opted to rule based on the arguments of the Defendant and the reasoning of the Magistrate Judge only in rendering this order.

Based on the discussion herein, the Court AFFIRMS the Magistrate Judge's October 15, 2010 minute entry order (Doc. 79) ruling on the Parties' discovery dispute pertaining to Plaintiff's Notice ...

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