Okuno v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., No. 15-4043 (6th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Okuno was working as an art director with a clothing company when she developed symptoms including vertigo, extreme headaches, memory loss, and abdominal pain. Though she had previously been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease, Okuno contends that these maladies had been “stable and well-controlled” for years and did not prevent her from working. After visits to multiple specialists, numerous tests, and two visits to the emergency room, Okuno was eventually diagnosed with narcolepsy, Crohn’s disease, and Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease. After diagnosis, she struggled with negative drug interactions and the side effects associated with her many treatments. Unable to continue working, Okuno went on short-term disability and applied for benefits under her employer’s long-term disability plan, issued and administrated by Reliance. Reliance denied the application on the basis that depression and anxiety contributed to Okuno’s disabling conditions. After exhausting her administrative appeals, Okuno brought a claim under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The district court found in favor of Reliance on cross-motions for judgment on the administrative record. The Sixth Circuit reversed, reasoning that her physical ailments, including Crohn’s disease, narcolepsy, and Sjogren’s syndrome, are disabling when considered apart from any mental component.