Home > Blog > Blog > Long Term Disability > Third Circuit Denies Petition for Mandamus Relief from District Court’s Appointment of Special Master to Review Hartford’s Denial of Disability Benefits

Third Circuit Denies Petition for Mandamus Relief from District Court’s Appointment of Special Master to Review Hartford’s Denial of Disability Benefits

In Lewis v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Company, No. 23-2431 (3rd Cir. Oct. 26, 2023), a dispute over long-term disability benefits, the district court appointed a Special Master to supplement the record on the issue of whether Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Company abused its discretion, and the impact of Hartford’s conflict of interest, on Hartford’s assessment of Plaintiff Lewis’s LTD claim. In a Certified Order Issued in Lieu of Mandate, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied what it construed as Hartford’s Petition for Writ of Mandamus from the district court’s order.

Lewis seeks disability benefits due to her medical condition of fibromyalgia; a condition characterized by subjective pain. On July 6, 2023, the district court issued an order that an independent medical review should take place. Hartford moved for reconsideration of this order and the district court denied the motion. Hartford conceded that the court could remand the dispute back to Hartford as the next step, though Hartford objected to a remand as unnecessary and improper. The district court, under the authority of Rule 53, appointed a Special Master to review and understand the medical records. The court relied on Ninth Circuit authority for the proposition that when an insurer does not allow an independent medical evaluation, that failure is a factor that weighs in favor of an abuse of discretion. The district court ordered Plaintiff to gather relevant medical records and submit them to the Special Master and for Hartford to pay the Special Master a retainer check in the amount of $3,000. The court ordered the Special Master to prepare a report and recommendation as to whether she believes a remand to Hartford is appropriate, or any other steps that should be taken. The Special Master could contact counsel directly with any questions. The district court denied Hartford’s request for an order allowing interlocutory appeal.

The Third Circuit explained that though the appointment of a Special Master is “unusual,” the district court appointed her to reinforce its determination that Hartford has a structural conflict and abused its discretion, justifying a remand to Hartford for full consideration of whether Lewis is disabled. Because the district court has indicated that it would remand the matter to Hartford, the Third Circuit saw no reason to grant the “extraordinary” remedy of mandamus. To the extent that Hartford’s petition was an attempted appeal of a collateral order, the court dismissed the appeal.


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*Please note that this blog is a summary of a reported legal decision and does not constitute legal advice. This blog has not been updated to note any subsequent change in status, including whether a decision is reconsidered or vacated. The case above was handled by other law firms, but if you have questions about how the developing law impacts your ERISA benefit claim, the attorneys at Roberts Disability Law, P.C. may be able to advise you so please contact us.

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