On September 24, 2001, plaintiff filed suit in California State Court against defendants, and the case was removed to this Court on October 24, 2001. Defendants filed the present motions for summary judgment on January 21, 2003, and plaintiff filed her opposition and a cross-motion for summary judgment on January 23, 2003.*fn3
Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See id.; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party does not bear the burden of proof at trial, the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact remains may be discharged by demonstrating that "there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The moving party is not required to produce evidence showing the absence of genuine issues of material fact. See Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 885, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990). Nor must the moving party support his or her own motion with evidence negating the non-moving party's claim. See id.
After the moving party makes a properly supported motion, the responding party must present specific facts showing that contradiction of the moving party's presentation of evidence is possible. See British Airways Bd. v. Boeing Co., 585 F.2d 946, 951 (9th Cir. 1978). It is not enough for the responding party to point to the mere allegations or denials contained in the pleadings. Instead, it must set forth, by affidavit or other admissible evidence, specific facts demonstrating the existence of an actual issue for trial. The evidence must be more than a mere "scintilla;" the responding party must show that the trier of fact could reasonably find in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Accordingly, summary judgment should be granted "[i]f the evidence is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly probative." Eisenberg v. Insurance Co. of North America, 815 F.2d 1285, 1288 (9th Cir. 1987). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must take the responding party's evidence as true and all inferences are to be drawn in its favor. See id. at 1289.
However, in reviewing such a motion, the Court does not make credibility determinations with respect to evidence offered, and it is required to draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630-31 (9th Cir. 1987). Summary judgment is therefore not appropriate "Where contradictory inferences may reasonably be drawn from undisputed evidentiary facts. . . ." Hollingsworth Solderless Terminal Co. v. Turley, 622 F.2d 1324, 1335 (9th Cir. 1980).
1) Defendant Life Insurance Company Of North America's Motion For Summary Judgment
Defendant Life Insurance Company of North America ("LINA") seeks summary judgment on the grounds that it did not abuse its discretion in denying benefits to plaintiff. LINA asserts that it is subject to the deferential review accorded to employee benefit plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). LINA claims that plaintiff has filed for accidental death and dismemberment benefits under the United Airlines, Inc. Welfare Benefit Plan, benefits that have been funded through the purchase of group insurance policies issued by LINA. (See Defendant LINA's Motion For Summary Judgment ("LINA Motion") at 1.) As a retired employee of United Airlines, Mr. Parra was able to participate in the benefit plan, including coverage under the accidental death group policy. (Id.)
In cases under ERISA, there are two standards of review the Court can apply: de novo review, or review for an abuse of discretion. A denial of ERISA benefits is reviewed de novo unless "the benefit plan gives the administrator or fiduciary discretionary authority to determine eligibility for benefits or to construe the terms of the plan." Firestone Tire and Rubber v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115, 109 S.Ct. 948, 103 L.Ed.2d 80 (1989). "[Firestone] means that the default is that the administrator has no discretion, and the administrator has to show that the plan gives it discretionary authority in order to get any judicial discretion." Kearney v. Standard Insurance Co., 175 F.3d 1084, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc).
When the district court applies a de novo standard of review to denial of benefits claim, it is free to consider the claim on the merits. See id. at 1096 (Fletcher, J., concurring). In the summary judgment context, if the Court has sufficient evidence "to enable to full exercise of informed and independent judgment," then it may grant summary judgment. Mongeluzo v. Baxter Travenol Long Term Disability Benefit Plan, 46 F.3d 938, 943 (9th Cir. 1995). It is only in applying the abuse of discretion standard that the particular characteristics of summary judgment in ERISA cases come into play.
Where the decision to grant or deny benefits is
reviewed for abuse of discretion, a motion for
summary judgment is merely the conduit to bring the
legal question before the district court and the
usual tests of summary judgment, such as whether a
genuine dispute of material fact exists, do not
Bendixen v. Standard Insurance Co.,