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McMillan v. AT&T Umbrella Benefit Plan No.1

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

October 4, 2017

KEVIN MCMILLAN, Plaintiff,
v.
AT&T UMBRELLA BENEFIT PLAN NO. 1, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Gregory Y.K. Frizzell, Judge

         Before the court is the Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment [Doc. No. 68] of defendant, AT&T Umbrella Benefit Plan No. 1. For the reasons set forth below, AT&T's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         This case is about benefits owed to the plaintiff, Kevin McMillan, under AT&T's short-term disability-benefits plan. On August 14, 2');">2017, the court entered judgment in favor of McMillan, awarding “short term disability benefits due under the plan from June 12');">2, 2');">2013 . . . through the date of judgment.” [Doc. No. 66]. The intended effect of this language was to grant McMillan twenty-six weeks of short-term disability benefits, which is the maximum number of weeks for which benefits are payable under the plan. On September 8, 2');">2017, AT&T filed the present motion, asking the court to amend its judgment to reflect that McMillan is only entitled to short-term disability benefits for the thirteen-week period between May 2');">21, 2');">2013 and August 2');">25, 2');">2013. [Doc. No. 68].

         II. Standard

         “The purpose of a Rule 59(e) motion is to correct manifest errors of law or to present newly discovered evidence.” Monge v. RG Petro-Machinery (Grp.) Co. Ltd., 701 F.3d 598, 611 (10th Cir. 2');">2012');">2) (internal brackets omitted). Such a motion “is designed to permit relief in extraordinary circumstances and not to offer a second bite at the proverbial apple.” Syntroleum Corp. v. Fletcher Intern., Ltd., No. 08-CV-384-JHP-FHM, 2');">2009 WL 76132');">22');">2, at *1 (N.D. Okla. Mar. 19, 2');">2009). As a result, the only grounds for granting a Rule 59(e) motion are: “(1) an intervening change in the controlling law, (2');">2) new evidence previously unavailable, and (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Monge, 701 F.3d at 611; see also Servants of Paraclete v. Does, 2');">204 F.3d 1005');">2');">204 F.3d 1005, 1012');">2 (10th Cir. 2');">2000) (“[A] motion to reconsider is appropriate where the court has misapprehended the facts, a party's position, or the controlling law.”). “Clear error . . . requires the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Maul v. Logan Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm's, No. CIV-05-605 C., 2');">2006 WL 344762');">29, at *1 (W.D. Okla. Nov. 2');">29, 2');">2006).

         III. Analysis

         AT&T points to two errors in the court's judgment regarding McMillan's short-term disability-benefits period: that the start date should have been May 2');">21, 2');">2013, not June 12');">2, 2');">2013; and that the end date should have been August 2');">25, 2');">2013, not the date of judgment. The court agrees with the former, but disagrees with the latter.

         a. Start Date

         AT&T argues that the start date of McMillan's short-term disability-benefits period should have been May 2');">21, 2');">2013, not June 12');">2, 2');">2013. June 12');">2, 2');">2013 was the date McMillan was first notified that his claim was denied. However, AT&T correctly notes that the relevant date is not the date of notice but the date of effective denial, which was May 2');">21, 2');">2013. [Doc. No. 2');">20-2');">2, p. 109]. Thus, the court agrees that this was clear error and will amend its judgment to reflect a May 2');">21, 2');">2013 start date for McMillan's short-term disability-benefits period.

         b. End Date

         AT&T makes two arguments that the end date of McMillan's short-term disability benefits period should have been August 2');">25, 2');">2013, not the date of judgment: first, McMillan returned to work on August 2');">26, 2');">2013; and second, the court lacked jurisdiction to award benefits past August 2');">25, 2');">2013. The court holds that neither argument establishes clear error, but chooses to clarify its judgment to reflect that it intended to award McMillan short-term disability benefits under the plan for the maximum, twenty-six week period, from May 2');">21, 2');">2013 through November 19, 2');">2013.

         First, the record is ambiguous as to whether McMillan returned to work on August 2');">26, 2');">2013. In support of its argument, AT&T points to the following items in the record: a “Return to Work Full Time Duty Notice” sent from Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. to McMillan's supervisor listing August 2');">26, 2');">2013 as the date of McMillan's return to work [Doc. No. 2');">20-2');">2, 35');">p. 135]; and an “External Physician Advisor Referral Form” created on January 10, 2');">2014, stating that McMillan returned to work on August 2');">26, 2');">2013 [Doc. No. 2');">20-3, p. 6');">p. 60');">p. 6');">p. 60]. However, AT&T does not identify in the record any employment records or correspondence to or from McMillan showing that he actually did return to work on August 2');">26, 2');">2013.[1] The parties never briefed this issue, either. To the extent that AT&T did address it in their briefing, they stated only that his “return to work date was set for August 2');">26, 2');">2013” [Doc. No. 30, p. 6');">p. 6] (emphasis added). Based on this evidence, the court concludes that the record is ambiguous as to whether McMillan returned to work on August 2');">26, 2');">2013. As a result, it would not have been clear error for the court to conclude that he did not.

         Second, the court did not commit clear error by awarding benefits past August 2');">25, 2');">2013. AT&T cites several cases in support of its argument that the court's review of Sedgwick's decision should be limited to the time period for which Sedgwick denied McMillan benefits- from May 2');">21, 2');">2013 to August 2');">25, 2');">2013. [Doc. Nos. 68, pp. 2');">2-3; 71');">71, p. 7] (citing Monroe-Trice v. UNUM Employee Short-Term Disability Plan, No. 00 Civ. 62');">238(JGK), 2');">2002');">2 WL 483312');">2, at *4 (S.D.N.Y Mar. 2');">29, 2');">2002');">2); Hedin v. Cingular Wireless, LLC, No. 04-CV-0406-CVE, 2');">2006 WL 34642');">29, at *1 (N.D. Okla. Feb. 13, 2');">2006); and McMillan v. AT&T Umbrella Benefit Plan No. 1, 3d 1069');">161 F.Supp.3d 1069, 1080 n.5 (N.D. Okla. Feb. 9, 2');">2016)). However, these cases do not cut as broadly as AT&T claims. Rather, they stand for the commonsense proposition that where a plaintiff fails to file a claim for long-term disability benefits, the court's review is limited to the administrator's decision regarding short-term disability benefits. This makes sense, because otherwise there would be no final decision by the administrator regarding long-term disability benefits for the court to review. The situation here is different: McMillan actually did file a claim for short-term disability benefits, and Sedgwick ...


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