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Huang v. Life Insurance Company of North America

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 3, 2015

Yafei Huang, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Life Insurance Company of North America, Defendant - Appellee

Submitted June 9, 2015

Page 893

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis.

For Yafei Huang, Plaintiff - Appellant: Jeffrey Andrew Herman, Phillip A. Tatlow, BOLLWERK & TATLOW, Saint Louis, MO.

For Life Insurance Company of North America, Defendant - Appellee: Jamie L. Boyer, STINSON & LEONARD, Saint Louis, MO; William E. Hanna, Christopher J. Leopold, STINSON & LEONARD, Kansas City, MO.

Before GRUENDER, MELLOY, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 894

MELLOY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Yafei Huang appeals the district court's[1] grant of summary judgment on claims related to a denial of life insurance benefits by Life Insurance Company of North America (" LINA" ), the ERISA plan administrator for her deceased husband's former employer. LINA denied benefits, determining that Huang's deceased husband, Ping Liu, breached a requirement in the application by failing to notify LINA of a cancer diagnosis he received after applying for insurance but before a policy issued. In granting summary judgment, the district court held LINA's determination and the underlying interpretation of the plan were not unreasonable. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

On November 12, 2009, Liu, a physician in a residency program, elected basic life insurance coverage from LINA through his employer's ERISA plan in the amount of his salary, $46,858.49. He also elected supplemental coverage in the amount of approximately four times his salary.

The summary plan description provided by Liu's employer stated, " To enroll for supplemental life insurance coverage, you must complete a separate Cigna enrollment

Page 895

form. Please note : evidence of good health may be required to enroll." [2] The application for insurance was a short, 2 1/2 page form containing several short health questions, notifying the applicant of a possible need for medical tests, and setting forth an ongoing change-of-health disclosure requirement.

A portion of the application entitled " Section A" sought " yes" or " no" answers and asked:

Within the last 5 years has the proposed insured been:

o diagnosed with any of the conditions shown in items A through J below,

o told by a medical professional he/she has or may have any of the conditions shown in items A through J below,

o or been treated by a medical professional for any of the conditions shown in items A through J below?
J. Cancer, Tumor, Leukemia, Hodgkin's Disease, Polyps or Mole?

The final half page of the form contained two lines at the top for the applicant's name and social security number. Below those lines, a box with centered text stated, " AGREEMENTS AND AUTHORIZATION" in six-point font, the same font used in the balance of the document. Beneath this boxed header the following text appeared:

To the best of my knowledge and belief all written, telephonic and electronic info I gave is true and complete. I understand that my insurance will not go into effect unless I am actively at work on the effective date. I also understand that coverage for each of my dependents will not go into effect unless the person is not confined in a hospital or institution, or receiving certain medical treatment. The conditions for the requested insurance to be effective are described in the policy and certificate. The approval of this request by the Insurance Company is one of those conditions. I understand and agree that:
(1) This request will be a part of the policy that ...

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