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Ryan v. Cargill

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

November 12, 2014

THOMAS M. RYAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CARGILL, INCORPORATED, Defendant

Page 995

For Thomas Ryan, Plaintiff: Gery R Gasick, GERY R GASICK LAW FIRM, Peoria, IL.

For Cargill Incorporated, A Delaware Corporation, Defendant: Michael R Phillips, LEAD ATTORNEY, Christine C Kommer, MCGUIRE WOODS LLP, Chicago, IL.

Page 996

ORDER

Jonathan E. Hawley, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

Before the Court is the Plaintiff, Thomas Ryan's, Motion for Discovery Authorization (D. 9; D. 10) and the Defendant, Cargill, Incorporated's (Cargill), response thereto (D.11). The Court heard oral argument on the motion on November 10, 2014. For the reasons stated, infra, Ryan's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I

Ryan alleges that Cargill denied him a " Disability Retirement Benefit" and therefore " benefits due to him under the terms of his plan," giving him a cause of action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). 29 U.S.C. § 502(a).

As alleged in the Complaint (D. 1), Ryan had nineteen years of " Continuous Service" with Cargill when, at age thirty-nine, he suffered a severe spinal injury at the Cargill soybean facility in Bloomington, Illinois. Mr. Ryan thereafter applied for a " Disability Retirement Benefit" under the 2002 " Pension Plan" (Plan), to which he was a Participant as defined by that Plan. Cargill, acting as the Plan Sponsor and Administrator, denied the application.

In doing so, Cargill noted that " Section 1.16 of the Plan provides that a Participant is not eligible for Retirement under the Plan unless the Participant has a 'termination of employment for reason other than death after a Participant has fulfilled all the requirements for a . . . Disability Retirement.'" (emphasis in original) (D. 1-2 at ECF p. 2). Section 11.1 provides:

A Participant shall be eligible to receive a Disability Retirement Benefit on or after having attained age forty-five (45) and having completed (15) or more years' Continuous Service and having the Company determine upon application by such Participant that he is totally and permanently disabled, as hereinafter defined.

(D. 1-1 at ECF p. 34). The dispute in this case involves the age requirement.

Cargill interpreted these provisions as requiring a Participant to have reached the age of forty-five at the time of " termination" before being eligible for a Disability Retirement Benefit. Because Ryan was not age forty-five at that time, Cargill concluded that the Plan forever precluded Ryan from receiving the Disability Retirement Benefit; he was ineligible because he did not meet the age requirement. (D. 1-2 at ECF p. 2). Cargill also stated that " the Plan has been consistently administered to require termination after attainment of both the age and service requirements listed for a Disability Retirement Benefit." Id. Ryan, however, alleges that so long as a Participant meets the disability and Continuous Service requirements, then he is entitled to the Disability Retirement Benefit at age forty-five, regardless of how old the Participant was at the time of " termination." In other words, Ryan was eligible for the benefit at the time of " termination" at age thirty-nine, but he could not receive the benefit until he reached age forty-five.

In the parties' Proposed Discovery Plan Pursuant to Rule 26(f) (D.), they disputed the discovery allowable in this case. Cargill posited that no discovery should be allowed, the case being limited to the administrative record, whereas Ryan argued that he was entitled to some limited discovery. The Court directed the parties to brief the issue, and the issue is now before the Court.

Page 997

In Ryan's Memorandum, quoting from the Discovery Plan, he notes that he seeks discovery in three areas. The first area involves exploring the structural conflict of interest inherent in the situation where the plan administrator both evaluates claims for benefits and pays benefits claims, present here because Cargill performs both roles. See Metropolitan Life Ins Co v Glenn, 554 U.S. 105, 114, 128 S.Ct. 2343, 171 L.Ed.2d 299 (2008). He would like to explore the nature and extent of this conflict with the following:

No. 1. Plaintiff [Ryan] also intends limited interrogatories concerning Cargill's compensation policies for the staff that decide and review benefits claims, any management checks for inaccurate decision-making and ...

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