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Holbrooks v. Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

October 31, 2013

Sarah Lynn Holbrooks, Executor of The Estate of Howard Holbrooks, Deceased, Plaintiff,
Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, Defendant.



This is an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 45 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., action by plaintiff Sarah Lynn Holbrooks, as executor for the Estate of Dr. Howard Holbrooks. The plaintiff challenges the decision of the defendant Sun Life Assurance Company to offset Veterans Administration disability benefits from the disability benefits paid to Dr. Holbrooks during his lifetime under an ERISA employer-sponsored plan. Both parties have moved for summary judgment. In addition, the defendant has moved for leave to file a surreply. The plaintiff has filed no opposition to the request, which is accordingly granted as unopposed pursuant to D.Kan.R. 7.4. The court has reviewed the facts and arguments of the parties, and finds that the VA disability benefits were properly offset under either of two separate Plan provisions.

Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine all evidence in a light most favorable to the opposing party. McKenzie v. Mercy Hospital, 854 F.2d 365, 367 (10th Cir. 1988). The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate its entitlement to summary judgment beyond a reasonable doubt. Ellis v. El Paso Natural Gas Co., 754 F.2d 884, 885 (10th Cir. 1985). The moving party need not disprove plaintiff's claim; it need only establish that the factual allegations have no legal significance. Dayton Hudson Corp. v. Macerich Real Estate Co., 812 F.2d 1319, 1323 (10th Cir. 1987).

In resisting a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials contained in its pleadings or briefs. Rather, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing the presence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial and significant probative evidence supporting the allegation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). Once the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), the party opposing summary judgment must do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. "In the language of the Rule, the nonmoving party must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (emphasis in Matsushita). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses, and the rule should be interpreted in a way that allows it to accomplish this purpose. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986).

Findings of Fact

Dr. Holbrooks was a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. He was also a six-year veteran of the United States Army, and was honorably discharged on July 1, 2003 at the rank of major.

Dr. Holbrooks participated in an employee welfare benefit plan sponsored by his former employer, Community Health Systems. The benefits of the Plan were funded, at least in part, by a group disability insurance policy issued by Sun Life to the employer.

On May 7, 2009, Dr. Holbrooks was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). As a result of the ALS, Dr. Holbrooks became entitled to receive disability benefits under the Policy, effective August 25, 2009, until his death on February 7, 2013. Under the Sun Life Policy, Dr. Holbrooks would receive as disability benefits 60% of his total monthly earnings, up to a maximum of $15, 000 per month, less any “Other Income Benefits.”

He also became entitled to receive service-connected disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the amount of $3, 005 per month, effective September 23, 2008. The regulations of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 38 C.F.R. §3.318, pursuant to 38 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq. (Veteran’s Benefits), establish a presumption of service connection for ALS for any veteran who develops ALS any time after separation from military service. These VA disability benefits accrue as a tax-free benefit paid to veterans for disabilities that are a result of, or made worse by, injuries or diseases that occurred while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.[1]

The Sun Life Policy provides:

Other Income Benefits are those benefits provided or available to the Employee while a Long Term Disability Benefit is payable. These Other Income Benefits, other than retirement benefits, must be provided as a result of the same Total or Partial Disability payable under this Policy. Other Income Benefits include:
1. The amount the Employee is eligible for under:
a. Workers’ Compensation ...

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