Blending De Novo and Deferential Review

I just noticed I haven’t posted since last year, for a few weeks to be more accurate, due to the usual end of the year crunch and a briefing schedule in a case overlaid on top of that to boot. No matter the reason, it runs afoul of my general feeling that you shouldn’t host a blog if you are not going to post frequently. In any event, Paul Secunda, over at Workplace Prof, has given me an easy reentry into posting, with his post here on the Seventh Circuit - the Seventh Circuit! - overturning a denial of short term disability benefits in a case where the administrator had been cloaked with discretionary authority. The interesting thing, to me anyway, about the ruling is that the court focused on certain minute details of the administrator’s handling and the precise details of the medical review relied on by the administrator, finding that a flaw in the medical review warranted overturning the denial. This is much different than what, for many years, has been the essence of judicial review of benefit denials where the arbitrary and capricious standard of review is applied, in which the courts essentially just looked to see if there was some medical evidence in the record that could justify the decision and, if so, affirmed the decision by the administrator. What you see in the Seventh Circuit decision is something different, and something more and more apparent in rulings over the past year or two, namely a closer look behind that evidence by the judicial body before whom the case is pending, to see not just - as was traditionally the case - whether there is evidence to support the administrator’s determination, but to instead test the quality of that evidence, followed by a decision as to whether the evidence is of a sufficient quality, and not just quantity, to support the administrator’s decision. If you think about it, that is tending more and more towards de novo review, to a certain extent, just under a different name.

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