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Harper v. Aetna Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

August 26, 2019

JORDAN HARPER, Plaintiff,
v.
AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign corporation; INTEGRATED SERVICE COMPANY, LLC, an Oklahoma corporation; THE INSERV BENEFIT PLAN; and DONNA MATLOCK, an individual;[1]Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Jodi F. Jayne United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are (1) the parties' Joint Status Report (ECF No. 36), which was referred to the undersigned for resolution of the discovery dispute explained in Part VI.C and entry of an appropriate scheduling order; and (2) Plaintiff's Motion to Conduct ERISA discovery (“Motion”) (ECF No. 46). The Motion was filed as a result of this Court's instructing Plaintiff to file a brief in support of her request for discovery (ECF No. 38). Defendant Aetna Life Insurance Company (“ALIC”) and Defendants Integrated Service Company (“InServ”), The InServ Benefit Plan (“Plan”); and Donna Matlock (“Matlock”) filed responses to the Motion (ECF Nos. 50, 52); and Plaintiff filed a reply (ECF No. 56). The Court conducted a hearing on July 29, 2019, and a follow-up phone conference on August 9, 2019.

         I. Factual Background

         The following facts are based on the Complaints in Case Numbers 18-CV-668 (“18-CV-668”) and 18-CV-669 (“18-CV-669”) or undisputed exhibits attached to the parties' briefs. Douglas Harper sustained fatal injuries in a one-vehicle accident on December 31, 2017. At the time of his death, Douglas Harper and his wife, Plaintiff Jordan Harper, were employees of InServ and participants in the Plan, which was underwritten by ALIC and sponsored by InServ. The Plan is an employee benefit plan as defined in 29 U.S.C. § 1132(d)(1) and is governed by the Employment Retirement Income and Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq.

         A. 18-CV-668 - Douglas Harper's Coverage

         Douglas Harper's coverage under the Plan included $150, 000 each in basic life insurance coverage and Accidental Death and Personal Loss (“ADPL”) coverage, with Jordan Harper as the designated beneficiary. Upon his death, Plaintiff claimed life insurance benefits and ADPL benefits under Douglas Harper's policy. ALIC paid the life insurance benefits but denied the ADPL benefits, because the death “was not the direct result of a covered accident” and because “the motor vehicle crash which led to his death was contributed to by taking prescription medication in manner (sic) other than what was prescribed by a physician.” 18-CV-668, ECF No. 2 at 4 (quoting denial letter). Plaintiff alleges Defendants “did not perform a complete and thorough investigation and wrongfully denied Plaintiff's claims for ADPL benefits.” Id. Plaintiff seeks review of the denial and seeks judgment jointly and severally against the Defendants ALIC, InServ, and the Plan in the amount of $150, 000, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). Id. at 4-5.

         B. 18-CV-669 - Jordan Harper's Coverage

         In addition to basic life and ADPL coverage on herself, Plaintiff elected $25, 000 each in basic life insurance coverage and ADPL coverage on her spouse. However, the Plan provides that “you cannot receive coverage under this Plan as: [b]oth an employee and a dependent[.]” 18-CV-668, ECF No. 150-1 at 138. Upon the death of her husband, Plaintiff claimed life insurance benefits and ADPL benefits under her own policy. ALIC denied the claims, stating that Plaintiff was

not eligible to cover Mr. Harper as a dependent since he was also an employee of (InServ) as per the requirements of the Policy. In addition, even if you were able to cover Mr. Harper as a dependent, it has been determined that Mr. Harper's death was caused or contributed by his use of drugs, not taken as prescribed which is a loss excluded by the Policy.

18-CV-669, ECF No. 2 at 4 (quoting denial letter).

         In 18-CV-669, Plaintiff seeks review of this separate denial and seeks judgment jointly and severally against all named Defendants, ALIC, InServ, the Plan, and Matlock, in the amount of $50, 000, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). Id. at 6. In addition to seeking review of the benefits decision, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Matlock and InServ “violated their fiduciary duties to Plaintiff as a participant in the Plan.” Id. Specifically, she alleges Matlock “did not advise Plaintiff . . . that there would be any issue with electing coverage for her husband if he was a co-employee of InServ” and that Matlock was “fully aware that both Douglas and Jordan Harper worked for InServ and was aware they were husband and wife.” Id. at 5. Plaintiff further alleges “InServ and ALIC waived any right to assert that Plaintiff was never entitled to coverage for the life of her spouse because they collected premiums for coverage which they now claim never existed, ” and because “neither ALIC, InServ, Matlock nor any other employee or agent of any defendant herein provided Plaintiff with a copy of the InServ Benefit Plan before the accidental death of Douglas Harper . . . .” Id. at 5-6.

         C. Plaintiff's Requested Discovery

         Plaintiff seeks to conduct fact depositions of four ALIC employees who were involved in the claims decision or appeal of the claims decisions. All ALIC employees reside out of state. Plaintiff seeks to depose one InServ employee, Matlock, who enrolled Plaintiff in the Plan. Matlock resides in Oklahoma. Plaintiff has not requested any written discovery, despite being provided an opportunity to do so in the Motion and during oral argument.

         II. ...


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