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Laneice Whatley-Bonner v. Pacific Telesis Group Comprehensive Disability Benefit Plan

December 2, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Ronald S.W. Lew Senior, U.S. District Court Judge

ORDER Re: Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [23] and Motion to Strike [39]

On November 29, 2011, Defendant Pacific Telesis Group Comprehensive Disability Benefit Plan's ("Defendant") Motion to Strike [39] and Motion for Summary Judgment [23] came on for regular calendar before the Court. The Court having reviewed all papers submitted pertaining to this Motion and having considered all arguments presented to the Court, NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS:

Defendant's Motion to Strike is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


Plaintiff Laneice Whatley-Bonner ("Plaintiff") was employed by AT&T for approximately ten years as a service representative. In March of 2009, Plaintiff experienced a sudden bilateral hearing loss and went on leave from her job. She then had surgery for a cochlear implant, which partially restored her hearing, but Plaintiff was still unable to communicate effectively on a telephone and thus could not return to her former position as a service representative. Therefore, Plaintiff was approved for the maximum allowable short-term disability benefits. At the conclusion of Plaintiff's short-term disability, Plaintiff applied for long-term disability benefits as her doctors agreed that she could not return to her former service representative position because she did not have the hearing capabilities to communicate on the phone.

AT&T delegated discretion to a third-party claims administrator, Sedgwick, to determine whether Plaintiff qualified for long-term disability benefits. The standard used to determine whether an employee qualified for long-term disability was whether the employee suffered from a condition that prevented him or her "from engaging in any occupation or employment which you are qualified or may reasonably be qualified, based on training, education, or experience." Sedgwick determined that Plaintiff was ineligible for long-term disability benefits because Plaintiff was physically able to engage in employment that did not require extensive telephone communication. Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal of this decision with the plan administrator, but it was rejected.

On October 25, 2010, pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), Plaintiff filed her Complaint [1] against Defendant seeking payment of long-term disability benefits. Defendant filed an Answer [5] on November 24, 2010, and subsequently filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment on September 29, 2011.


1. Motion to Strike

Under Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court may, by motion or on its own initiative, strike any "redundant, immaterial, impertinent or scandalous" matters from the pleadings. The purpose of Rule 12(f) is "to avoid the expenditure of time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by disposing of those issues prior to trial." Sidney-Vinstein v. A.H. Robbins Co., 697 F.2d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 1983).

The grounds for a motion to strike must appear on the face of the pleading under attack. See Dah Chong Hong, Ltd v. Silk Greenhouse Flowers, Inc., 719 F. Supp. 1072, 1073 (M.D. Fla. 1989). In addition, the Court must view the pleading under attack in the light more favorable to the pleader when ruling upon a motion to strike. See California v. United States, 512 F. Supp. 36, 39 (N.D. Cal. 1981). As a rule, motions to strike are regarded with disfavor and are generally denied unless the allegations have no possible relation to the controversy and may cause prejudice to one of the parties. See Colaprico v. Sun Microsystems, Inc., 758 F. Supp. 1335, 1339 (N.D. Cal. 1991); Naton v. Bank of California, 72 F.R.D. 550, 551 (N.D. Cal. 1976); C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1382, at 683-90 (1990).

2. Motion for Summary Judgment Under Rule 56

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue is one in which the evidence is such that a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The evidence, and any inferences based on underlying facts, must be viewed in a light most favorable to the opposing party. Diaz v. American Tel. & Tel., 752 F.2d 1356, 1358 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985).

Where the moving party does not have the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, the moving party may meet its burden for summary judgment by showing an "absence of evidence" to support the non-moving ...

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