VICKI COLLIER V. LINCOLN LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY, No. 21-55465 (9th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff challenged Lincoln’s denial of her claim for long-term disability benefits. On de novo review, the district court affirmed Lincoln’s denial of Plaintiff's claim, but it adopted new rationales that the ERISA plan administrator did not rely on during the administrative process. Specifically, the district court found for the first time that Plaintiff was not credible and that she had failed to supply objective evidence to support her claim.
The Ninth Circuit held that when a district court reviews de novo a plan administrator’s denial of benefits, it examines the administrative record without deference to the administrator’s conclusions to determine whether the administrator erred in denying benefits. The district court’s task is to determine whether the plan administrator’s decision is supported by the record, not to engage in a new determination of whether the claimant is disabled. Accordingly, the district court must examine only the rationales the plan administrator relied on in denying benefits and cannot adopt new rationales that the claimant had no opportunity to respond to during the administrative process.
Here, the district court erred because it relied on new rationales to affirm the denial of benefits.