review of the evidentiary record before the magistrate.
Defendant's citation of the deferential de novo review in Raddatz is not helpful. As one circuit noted, "plan administrators are not governmental agencies who are frequently granted deferential review because of their acknowledged expertise. Administrators may be lay persons appointed under the plan, sometimes without any legal, accounting or other training . . . ." Luby v. Teamsters Health, Welfare, and Pen. Tr. Funds, 944 F.2d 1176, 1183 (3rd Cir. 1991).
The Third Circuit charted a middle approach in Luby. That court held a strict rule barring new evidence "makes little sense," but when the record is sufficiently developed ". . . the district court may, in its own discretion, merely conduct a de novo review of the record of the administrator's decision, making its own independent benefit determination." Id. at 1184-85.
Prior to Bruch, federal courts had adopted the arbitrary and capricious standard of review for ERISA cases. Bruch at 953. The rigid Perry view, limiting review to the record, makes sense under a standard where a decision based on an inadequate record could justify a finding that a plan administrator was arbitrary and capricious. However, the restrictive approach to de novo review adopted in seems contrary to the Supreme Court's warning in Bruch that " . . . the threat of increased litigation is not sufficient to outweigh the reasons for a de novo standard that we have already explained." Bruch at 956.
Now that the Supreme Court has held that cases such as the one at issue must be judged de novo, the rigid rule favored in Perry does not make sense. In a case such as this one, where the record contains numerous and possibly conflicting medical terms and diagnoses, excluding new evidence would force this court to become its own medical expert.
Neither is it helpful to apply an equally rigid rule allowing new evidence in all de novo reviews of ERISA cases, as per Moon. Nothing in Bruch requires a trial court to admit evidence if it is irrelevant, redundant or cumulative.
In cases where the administrative record is sufficiently developed, limiting de novo review to the administrative record would further judicial economy, yet allow a trial court to comply with the requirements implicit in a de novo determination.
This court adopts the Luby approach. Implicit in the Supreme Court's requirement of a de novo review is that a trial court must review an adequate record and then rule on the merits. Leaving the scope of de novo review up to the discretion of the trial court, based upon the sufficiency of the record, allows a court to admit new evidence when necessary, yet accommodates legitimate concerns for judicial economy
SUFFICIENCY OF THE RECORD
How should the court decide whether the record in this case is sufficient? In this district's only published case on this issue the court exercised its discretion to limit the scope of review to the record before the administrator. James v. Equicor, Inc., 791 F. Supp. 804, 808 (N.D.Cal. 1992). The question was whether the plaintiff was qualified for long term disability benefits. The record before the administrator contained reports from plaintiff's two treating physicians, a report by the plan's physician and from an outside consultant. Id. at 808. All reports concluded the plaintiff could work and the defendant was granted summary judgement. Id. at 809.
Plaintiff's case is factually distinguishable from James. The record indicates that, unlike the plan administrator in James, Defendant acted without any medical reports directly addressing what Defendant itself identified as an important factual issue: whether Plaintiff's January, 1989 medical treatment was related to his Hodgkin's Disease.
Defendant's own doctor did not review the record prior to the denial of benefits.
This court cannot make a determination based on the record alone. Without sufficient medical reports in the record, this court must exercise its discretion and allow further testimony to aid in its determination.
This court finds that, for the reasons stated above, the standard of review for this case is a de novo trial in which new evidence may be introduced by the parties and considered by the court.
Dated: March 4, 1993
F. STEELE LANGFORD
Chief Magistrate Judge