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Hackett v. Standard Insurance Co.

March 19, 2009

KATHLEEN M. HACKETT, PLAINTIFF - APPELLANT,
v.
STANDARD INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT - APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bye, Circuit Judge

Submitted: September 22, 2008

Before BYE, BEAM, and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.

Kathleen Hackett appeals the district court's order affirming Standard Insurance Company's denial of long-term disability benefits under her employer-funded insurance policy. We reverse and remand.

I.

Hackett was an employee of Mileage Plus Inc. (MPI) in Rapid City, South Dakota, for fourteen years, eventually serving as a customer service supervisor. As a benefit of her employment, MPI provided disability insurance under a benefit plan (Plan) issued by Standard.*fn1 The Plan provides disability benefits for the first twenty-four months after the onset of a disability if the insured is unable to work at her "own occupation." To continue receiving benefits after twenty-four months, the insured must demonstrate an inability to work at "any occupation" as defined by the Plan. The Plan defines "any occupation" benefit eligibility as:

During the Any Occupation Period you are required to be Disabled from all occupations. You are disabled from all occupations if, as a result of Sickness, Injury or Pregnancy, you are unable to perform with reasonable continuity the material duties of any gainful occupation for which you are reasonably fitted by education, training and experience.

Standard determined employment paying $2600 per month or more would qualify as gainful occupation considering Hackett's experience and abilities.

Hackett asserts she is disabled by the residual effects of a brain hemorrhage suffered on September 28, 2002. On that day, she was taken to the hospital and seen by a neurologist, Dr. James Nabwangu. She underwent emergency surgery and was released from the hospital eleven days later with instructions to follow up with Dr. Nabwangu.

On November 5, 2002, Dr. Nabwangu noted Hackett had "done exceptionally well" since the surgery, and was planning on returning to work part time at MPI, beginning November 7, 2002. On December 3, 2002, Hackett again saw Dr. Nabwangu and reported her ability to focus was improving and she was able to do computer work when not distracted. Hackett also reported she was extremely tired after seven hours of work. Dr. Nabwangu indicated she should remain working thirty hours a week and could resume driving.

After returning to MPI, Hackett continued to receive medical treatment. Hackett's internist, Dr. James Bowman, saw her in early 2003 and noted Hackett was "doing very well" and had more energy, but had suffered a slight headache earlier in the day. On January 15, 2003, Hackett reported to Dr. Bowman she was suffering from a severe headache, which was worse when she did "work on the computer with numbers." On March 21, 2003, Dr. Bowman noted Hackett had "a lot of mood lability" and was unable to focus at her job, but had not had problems with severe headaches. On April 21, 2003, Dr. Bowman noted Hackett still suffered from "occasional" headaches, but her mood had improved.

On February 28, 2003, Hackett applied to Standard for "own occupation" disability benefits, asserting the effects of the hemorrhage rendered her unable to perform her duties as a customer service supervisor. On May 1, 2003, Standard approved her disability claim from December 26, 2002, through January 17, 2003, but found she was able to return to work after January 17, 2003.

On May 6, 2003, Hackett ended her employment with MPI. She visited Dr. Nabwangu the same day and he noted Hackett "had to quit her job today, because she is really unable to handle the duties demanded of her, due to intellectual impairment of some confusion; etc."

On June 17, 2003, Hackett was readmitted to the hospital after feeling "confused" while working as a receptionist. She was diagnosed with cerebral ischemia and discharged after three days of treatment with plans for physical and occupational therapy and home medication. Hackett was terminated from the ...


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