How an Administrator Can Lose The Right To An Offset

This is actually a kind of fascinating, if someone odd, long term disability benefits case out of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. It involves what otherwise would seem to be a remarkably unnoteworthy issue, namely the right of the plan administrator - an insurer who also administered the plan - to offset from the benefit amount the estimated value of social security benefits that the claimant would have received but for the fact that the claimant never applied for them. Seems pretty straightforward, except the court did not allow the insurer to do so, because the insurer did not provide the claimant with assistance in applying for social security benefits as provided for under the plan’s terms. The court found that the insurer could not simultaneously enforce the social security offset provision while not complying with its own obligations under the plan to assist the claimant in seeking social security, and the court proceeded to find that loss of the right to enforce the offset was an appropriate remedy for this violation of the plan terms. Offsets of this ilk are routine, and while claimants often complain about them and try to avoid them, they are normally enforced without any big uproar. Not so here, where the insurer managed to lose the right to the offset. What is more interesting is the reasoning of the magistrate judge (whose recommendations were affirmed and adopted by the district court), which, despite application of the arbitrary and capricious standard of review - which would normally grant the insurer great discretion in the interpretation of the plan terms in question - found that the insurer’s own interpretation of the relevant plan terms was simply too far removed from any sensible reading of the plan terms to be upheld. In a realm of the law where many critics feel that the simple fact of applying the arbitrary and capricious standard of review is outcome determinative in favor of the administrator (a sentiment I don’t agree with and a thesis frequently disproved by court rulings), this is a relatively unusual event. The case is McCormick v. Metropolitan Life, and you can find it here.