González-Ríos v. Hewlett Packard P.R. Co.

Decision Date30 September 2012
Docket NumberNo. 11–1418 (DRD).,11–1418 (DRD).
Citation899 F.Supp.2d 155
PartiesBenny GONZÁLEZ–RÍOS, Plaintiff v. HEWLETT PACKARD P.R. CO., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Luis Vivaldi–Oliver, Luis Vivaldi-Oliver Law Office, Mayaguez, PR, for Plaintiff.

Fernando A. Baerga–Ibanez, Curbelo, Baerga & Quintana Law Office, Carolina Santa Cruz–Sadurni, Baerga & Quintana Law Offices, Rosa M. Cruz–Niemiec, Cruz Niemiec & Vazquez, San Juan, PR, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

DANIEL R. DOMINGUEZ, District Judge.

On December 30, 2010, Plaintiff filed the instant complaint in the Puerto Rico Court of First Instance, Aguadilla Part, alleging that defendants had wrongfully denied payment of certain disability benefits under a disability benefits plan covering Plaintiff as a participant. After some procedural incidents, including the removal of Plaintiff's complaint to this Court, Plaintiff's filing of a motion for partial summary judgment, and the Court's dismissal of the same, co-defendant Life Insurance Company of North America's (“LINA”) filed a Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record for Judicial Review (Docket No. 51) and co-defendant Hewlett Packard Caribe B.V., Co.'s (“HP Caribe”) filed a Motion to Dismiss Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and/or for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support Thereof, both of which were referred to Magistrate Judge Sylvia Carreño–Coll for a report and recommendation (“R & R”) (Docket Nos. 67 and 73).1

LINA is the named fiduciary for adjudicating claims for benefits under the Hewlett Packard B.V.'s Insurance Plan (the Plan), the short-term disability benefit plan covering Plaintiff's claim (Docket No. 51–2, page 43). In the Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record for Judicial Review, LINA requests that this Court conclude that LINA's coverage determination was supported by the administrative record and that the Court affirms LINA's decision to deny benefits. (Docket No. 51).

HP Caribe is Plaintiff's former employer. In the hybrid motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment, HP Caribe alleges that the complaint is factually insufficient to substantiate a claim against HP Caribe, requesting dismissal of Plaintiff's claim. (Docket No. 52).

Magistrate Judge Carreño–Coll issued her R & R on September 19, 2012, recommending that the Court grant both motions and that Plaintiff's claim be dismissed with prejudice. (Docket No. 73). Plaintiff opposed the R & R's conclusions as to the applicable standard of review and that Plaintiff was afforded full, fair and complete administrative claims procedure. (Docket No. 75).

Upon review of Magistrate Judge's R & R, the Court hereby ADOPTS the R & R, as supplemented herein, and GRANTS LINA's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record for Judicial Review and HP Caribe's Motion to Dismiss Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and/or for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support Thereof,DISMISSING WITH PREJUDICE Plaintiff's claims.

I. MAGISTRATE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

The Court may refer dispositive motions to a United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). See alsoFed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); D.P.R. Civ. R. 72(a); and Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 96 S.Ct. 549, 46 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976). Nonetheless, an adversely affected party may contest the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation by filing its objections to the recommendations made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). In such respect, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), in pertinent part, provides that

any party may serve and file written objections to such proposed findings and recommendations as provided by rules of court. A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.

“Absent objection, ... [a] district court ha[s] a right to assume that [the affected party] agree[s] to the magistrate's recommendation.” Templeman v. Chris Craft Corp., 770 F.2d 245, 247 (1st Cir.1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1021, 106 S.Ct. 571, 88 L.Ed.2d 556 (1985). Additionally, “failure to raise objections to the Report and Recommendation waives that party's right to review in the district court and those claims not preserved by such objections are precluded upon appeal.” Davet v. Maccarone, 973 F.2d 22, 30–31 (1st Cir.1992); see alsoHenley Drilling Co. v. McGee, 36 F.3d 143, 150–51 (1st Cir.1994) (holding that objections are required when challenging findings actually set out in a magistrate's recommendation, as well as the magistrate's failure to make additional findings); Lewry v. Town of Standish, 984 F.2d 25, 27 (1st Cir.1993) (stating that [o]bjection to a magistrate's report preserves only those objections that are specified”); Borden v. Sec. of H.H.S., 836 F.2d 4, 6 (1st Cir.1987) (holding that appellant was entitled to a de novo review, “however he was not entitled to a de novo review of an argument never raised”).

The Court, in order to accept unopposed portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, needs only satisfy itself that there is no “plain error” on the face of the record. See Douglass v. United Servs. Auto, Ass'n, 79 F.3d 1415, 1419 (5th Cir.1996) ( en banc ) (extending the deferential “plain error” standard of review to the un-objected to legal conclusions of a magistrate judge); see alsoNettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404, 410 (5th Cir.1982) ( en banc ) (appeal from district court's acceptance of un-objected to findings of magistrate judge reviewed for “plain error”); Nogueras–Cartagena v. United States, 172 F.Supp.2d 296, 305 (D.P.R.2001) (finding that the Court reviews [unopposed] Magistrate's Report and Recommendation to ascertain whether or not the Magistrate's recommendation was clearly erroneous”) (adopting the Advisory Committee note regarding FED. R.CIV. P. 72(b)); Garcia v. I.N.S., 733 F.Supp. 1554, 1555 (M.D.Pa.1990) (finding that “when no objections are filed, the district court need only review the record for plain error”).

An adversely affected party may “contest the [m]agistrate [j]udge's report and recommendation by filing objections ‘within ten 2 days of being served’ with a copy of the order.” United States v. Mercado Pagan, 286 F.Supp.2d 231, 233 (D.P.R.2003) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)). If objections are timely filed, the district judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified findings or recommendation to which an objection is made. See Bonefont–Igaravidez v. International Shipping Corp., 659 F.3d 120 (1st Cir.2011); and Iverson v. City of Boston, 452 F.3d 94, 98 (1st Cir.2006).

In the instant case, Plaintiff objects the conclusions reached by the Magistrate Judge as to R's conclusions as to the applicable standard of review and that Plaintiff was afforded full, fair and complete administrative claims. Hence, the Court will review the R & R de novo.

II. THE UNCONTESTED FACTS3

[Plaintiff] was an employee of [HP Caribe] until July 21, 2009. In that employment,he was covered by both a Short Term and Long Term Disability Plan (“STD” and “LTD” Plans, respectively), and LINA was the fiduciary for each. On February 23, 2009, [Plaintiff] underwent back surgery and was paid STD benefits from February 3 to May 15 of that year. On June 2, 2009, LINA for the first time denied [Plaintiff] benefits. The letter informing [Plaintiff] included the STD Plan's definition of “disability” and explained what materials had been reviewed. See Docket No. 51–4, at 45. The letter explained that the statement of [Plaintiff's] attending physician did not explain how [Plaintiff's] injuries prevented him from performing his job functions. See id. Finally, the letter explained what additional information [Plaintiff] should provide on appeal. See id. at 46. LINA determined that [Plaintiff's] physician's assessment did not rule out [Plaintiff] performing his duties. [Plaintiff] returned to work on July 2, 2009, and continued until he left for the final time on July 21, 2009.

On July 22, 2009, [Plaintiff] made a second request for STD benefits, submitting further notes from his physician. Those notes say that [Plaintiff] had chronic pain but did not recommend specific work restrictions. See Docket No. 51–5, at 43. On February 11, 2010, LINA again denied [Plaintiff's] claim, citing lack of explanation regarding how his condition was preventing him from doing his work. See Docket No. 51–4, at 21. [Plaintiff] appealed on March 16, 2009, and this time submitted the notes from a July 19, 2009, office visit with a neurologist. [Plaintiff's] appeal was denied on April 30, 2010, for the same reasons as his prior requests. See id. at 9–11. After some further communications—but no new information from [Plaintiff]—the determination was made final and the matter closed. [The instant] suit followed.

(Docket No. 73, pages 160–62) (Footnotes omitted).

III. JUDGMENT ON THE ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD
A. Standard of Review

Under ERISA's civil enforcement provision, Section 502(a)(1)(B), judicial review of a benefit entitlement decision may be the subject of two separate standards. Eusebio Cotto Villegas v. Fed. Express Corp., 468 F.Supp.2d 293, 306 (D.P.R.2006) (stating the two possible standards of review are arbitrary and capricious or de novo ). The arbitrary and capricious standard applies when a reading of the plan in question indicates a clear grant of discretionary authority to the administrator in determining the eligibility for benefits of a participant or beneficiary. SeeTerry v. Bayer Corp., 145 F.3d 28, 37 (1st Cir.1998). Thus, should the plan provide “the administrator or fiduciary discretionary authority to determine eligibility for benefits or to construe the terms of the plan,” the court must apply the deferential “arbitrary and capricious” standard of...

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