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Johnson v. United of Omaha Life Ins. Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 30, 2014

Vicki Johnson, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
United of Omaha Life Insurance Company, Defendant - Appellant

Submitted May 14, 2014.

Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Omaha.

For Vicki Johnson, Plaintiff - Appellee: Terry M. Anderson, Steven M. Lathrop, David Matthew O'Neill, HAUPTMAN & O'BRIEN, Omaha, NE.

For United of Omaha Life Insurance Company, Defendant - Appellant: Timothy J. Thalken, FRASER & STRYKER, Omaha, NE.

Before SMITH, BEAM, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 984

SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

United of Omaha Life Insurance Company (United) appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to Vicki Johnson in her action filed pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) seeking reversal of United's denial of long-term disability benefits. We disagree with the district court's grant of

Page 985

summary judgment to Johnson and now reverse.

I.

From May 1995 until February 2009, Johnson worked for Colorado Real Estate and Investment Company (Colorado Real Estate). In the last three years of her employment, Johnson worked as a Rent Roll Specialist. In this position, Johnson worked from home and was responsible for administering the rent roll for approximately 2,000 home sites and assisting in the collection of rent. Johnson described her job as " basically 8 hours a day in front of a computer." Colorado Real Estate described Johnson's job as " clerical" and categorized the position as " sedentary." Johnson was covered under a United disability insurance policy purchased by Colorado Real Estate for its employees.

Prior to her resignation in 2009, Johnson began suffering from various medical conditions. In 1999, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. In 2004, she underwent neck surgery to repair nerve injuries. On February 26, 2009, the day she resigned, Johnson visited Dr. Cheryl MacDonald, her primary care physician. Dr. MacDonald took Johnson's blood pressure and diagnosed Johnson with (1) anxiety and depression and (2) fibromyalgia and chronic pain. Johnson completed a short-term disability form, claiming disability based on " severe depression/anxiety" and " fibromyalgia & pain syndrome." Dr. MacDonald completed an Attending Physician's Statement in support of Johnson's short-term disability claim and indicated that Johnson suffered from depression, anxiety attacks, and fibromyalgia. Johnson continued to see Dr. MacDonald, with visits on March 23, 2009; June 19, 2009; October 12, 2009; and June 22, 2010.

On April 13, 2009, United informed Johnson that it was denying her application for short-term disability because the documentation from Dr. MacDonald did not support Johnson's alleged impairments. Johnson appealed, and her application was referred to a United-employed doctor. That doctor reviewed Johnson's medical records in connection with her short-term disability claim, including records from Dr. MacDonald as well as documents from Dr. John McClellan, an orthopedic surgeon who performed spinal surgery on Johnson in ...


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