New Jersey Long Term Disability Recent Cases -In What Direction is Our Judiciary Headed? Part I

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Three recent New Jersey District Court Decisions threaten to undo years of progress in the growing body of law pertaining to long term disability cases in New Jersey. In the aftermath of MetLife v. Glenn, 128 S.Ct. 2343 (2008), we expected that more, not less judicial scrutiny of the acts of claims administrators would occur. The closer the courts inspect the procedures utilized to decide disability claims, the better chance our disabled clients have for a full and fair review of their claim.
New Jersey has unfortunately been moving against this tide. The first case, Scotti v. The Prudential Welfare Benefits Plan, 2009 U.S.Dist LEXIS 64559 (D.N.J.July 23, 2009) involves a man disabled by depression, pseudodementia and cognitive impairments. All of Mr. Scotti’s treating and examining physicians confirmed the diagnoses and the functional impairments. The court limited its review to whether Prudential abused its discretion, which means that Scotti carried the burden of proving that the administrative record did not contain substantial evidence to support Prudential’s denial. The court found that Prudential had enacted sufficient safeguards to minimize the chance that its decision was tainted by its own self interest to promote its financial interests. The court denied summary judgment for each party, finding that whether Scott’s impairments can be validly diagnosed by personal examination is a genuine issue of material fact.
RAFEL COMMENTARY: The Court accepted the opinions of the medical consultants hired by Prudential’s captive third party without evaluating their credibility. In other circuits, the courts recognize that these doctors could be “doctors for hire”, and their opinions far less than independent. See, for example the evidence discovered in Soloman v. MetLife, 2009 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 51507 (S.D.N.Y. June 18, 2009), showing that the reviewing doctors derived 90% of their income from paper medical reviews for third parties. We can learn alot from our neighbors across the Hudson River. BGRafel