A tug of war over disability plan documents has been remanded to an Alexandria federal district court for the second time by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
AT&T denied long-term disability benefits under the company’s ERISA plan to employee Margaret Mullins, who suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome. The district court upheld the denial of benefits but said the company owed Mullins $18,400 because it violated ERISA when it failed to provide Mullins with a copy of the ERISA Summary Plan Description. Both sides appealed.
Without considering the merits, the 4th Circuit remanded the case in 2006, directing the district court to determine whether there were any claims manuals, protocols or internal guidelines relevant to processing Mullins’ claim, and to provide such documents to her, as she had requested.
Instead, Judge Gerald Bruce Lee reviewed plan documents in camera, to protect the company’s “internal proprietary information about risk assessment” and claim administration, according to the 4th Circuit’s unpublished per curiam opinion in Mullins v. AT&T Corp. Lee granted summary judgment to AT&T “without ever permitting Mullins to see any portion of claims-processing documents.”
On Sept. 3, the appellate court reluctantly remanded the “already protracted” case again, saying Mullins should have the chance to review the claims-processing documents and reargue her case.
By Deborah Elkins