LTD and ERISA Lawyers: Riverside, Orange & San Bernardino Counties
Summary Judgment Or Judgment on the Record
A motion for summary judgment is appropriate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), where the undisputed facts show that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [Plaintiff] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett (1986) 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2555; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248 (1986); Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 3d 2725.
If there is no conflict of interest for the court to consider, no evidence outside the administrative record ("extrinsic evidence"), and when applying an untempered abuse of discretion standard without skepticism, some courts construe a summary motion as merely the conduit to determine the ultimate issue of whether there is a reasonable basis in the record to support an insurer's benefits denial decision. Bendixen v. Standard Ins. Co. 185 F. 3d 939, 942 (9th Cir. 1999); Nolan v. Heald College, 551 F.3d 1148, 1154 (9th Cir. 2009).
Under Kearney v. Standard Ins. Co., 175 F.3d 104 (9th Cir.1998), Ninth Circuit courts typically do not adjudicate ERISA cases under summary judgment. They adjudicate them on the record, pursuant to a Rule 52 motion, on the grounds that the claimant is entitled to disablity benefits under ERISA, in accordance with Fed Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), where the district judge, as he reads the evidence, determines not whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, but instead whether the claimant is disabled within the terms of the policy.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a) provides that "if a party has been fully heard on an issue during a nonjury trial and the court finds against the party on that issue, the court may enter judgment against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue. The court may, however, decline to render any judgment until the close of the evidence. A judgment on partial findings must be supported by findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Rule 52(a)."
In a trial on the record, but not on summary judgment, the judge can evaluate the persuasiveness of conflicting testimony and decide which is more likely true.There is no such thing as findings of fact on a motion for summary judgment. Thompson v. Mahre, 10 F.3d 716, 719 (9th Cir.1997). However, in a bench trial on the record, which is the favored method, the judge may make findings of fact under Rule 52(a) and adjudicate the case accordingly.