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Chartkoff v. American Electric Power

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 27, 2018

JOHN R. CHARTKOFF, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN ELECTRIC POWER, et al, Defendant.

          Elizabeth P. Deavers Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          EDMUND A. SARGUS, JR. CHIEF JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court for consideration of Defendant's, American Electric Power System Long Term Disability Plan ("AEP"), and Plaintiffs, John Charkoff ("Plaintiff), Cross Motions for Judgment on the Administrative Record (ECF Nos. 21, 23), Memorandums in Opposition (ECF Nos. 27, 28), Defendant's Motion to Strike (ECF No. 29), and Plaintiffs Memorandum in Opposition to the Motion to Strike. (ECF No. 30.) For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record, DENIES Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record, and GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Strike.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff applied for long term disability benefits under the American Electric Power's Long Term Disability Benefits Plan and then supplemented the application on March 22, 2016. The Plan, through its claims Administrator, the Prudential Insurance Company of America (the "Administrator"), denied his application on April 8, 2016. Plaintiff appealed the denial in August 2016 (R. 0027) and the denial was affirmed by the Administrator on October 26, 2016. (R. at 0305-11.) He then filed the instant action under Section 502 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., alleging that he is disabled from performing the duties of his own occupation due to autism spectrum disorder and anxiety and thus is entitled to long-term disability benefits from the Plan. Now, both the Plaintiff and Defendant move for Judgment on the Administrative Record.

         B. Factual Background

         Plaintiff began employment with American Electric Power as a Senior IT Network Consultant on February 14, 2014. (Pl.'s Mot Summ. J. at 1.) Prior to his employment at AEP, Plaintiff reported that he served in the Air National Guard from 1991 to 1993. (Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 4.) He served in the Coast Guard from 1993 to 1996. (Id.) From 1996 to 2008 he was employed as an electrician, which overlapped in 2005 with a six month deployment to Iraq. (Id.) As an employee at AEP, he participated in the American Electric Power's Long Term Disability Benefits Plan (the "Plan").

         The Plan provides for payment of long term disability benefits to a participant, if the participant provides proof that he or she can no longer perform the duties of his or her position. (R. at 0090.) "Disability" is defined under the Plan as follows:

For the initial 24-month period from the date of disability, "disability" is defined as an illness or injury that requires the regular treatment of a duly qualified physician that may reasonably be expected to prevent you from performing your duties in your occupation with AEP.
After the first 24-months following your date of disability, "disability" is defined as an injury or illness that requires the regular treatment of a duly qualified physician that may reasonably be expected to prevent you from performing the duties of any occupation for which you are reasonably qualified by your education, training, and experience. So long as you meet the requirements of this "two year test." you will continue to be disabled.

(R. at 0305.) American Electric Power delegated its authority as the Plan Administrator to Prudential. Prudential therefore has the authority to determine benefits, construe the terms of the Plan, and decide appeals.

         On June 13. 2015, Plaintiff submitted his portion of the Certificate of Disability ("COD"), noting that he suffered from chronic akathisia, painful paresthesia, and mild cognitive impairment. He identified Dr. Canale as his treating physician. (R. at 0037.) Plaintiffs last date working for AEP was June 18, 2015. (R. at 0003.) He filed a claim for disability benefits on or about November 11, 2015. (R. at 0003-007.) In support of his application, Plaintiff submitted medical records and a capacity questionnaire from Dr. Erin Canale ("Dr. Canale") and a Neurobehavioral examination completed by Dr. Jennifer Whatley ("Dr. Whatley"). On November 16, 2015, the Administrator sent Plaintiff a letter informing him that additional information was needed to make a determination as to his eligibility for long-term disability benefits. (R. at 0264-65.) The next day, the Administrator sent another letter requesting that Plaintiff complete a Treatment Questionnaire. (R. at 0267-68.) In the Treatment Questionnaire Plaintiff completed on November 29, 2015, he identified Dr. Canale and Dr. Brandemihl as his treating physicians. (R. 0078-80.) On March 22, 2016, Plaintiff submitted new medical evidence in the form of a letter from Doctor Adam Brandemihl ("Dr. Brandemihl"). (R. at 0193-95, 0244-49.) In the letter Dr. Brandemihl wrote that Plaintiff had an anxiety disorder and an autism spectrum disorder ("ASD") that, in his opinion, caused Plaintiff to have an inability to work in his occupation. (R. at 0217-18.)

         1. Doctors

         a. Doctor Erin Canale, M.D.

         On June 8, 2015, Plaintiff treated with Dr. Canale, a neurologist and one of his treating physicians.[1] (R. at 0137.) Dr. Canale recommended he look into FMLA or short-term disability leave. (R. at 0137.) On July 23, 2015, she executed her section of the COD, noting that she anticipated Plaintiff would return to work after three to six weeks. (R. at 0036.) That same day, Plaintiff reported that he "feels much, much better today" than he felt at his prior visit. (R. at 0132.)

         At an August 27, 2015 appointment, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Canale that he has had a girlfriend for two months and that he feels much better when he is with her "and almost feels normal." (R. at 0017.)

         b. Doctor Jennifer Whatley, Ph.D.

         Dr. Canale referred Plaintiff to Dr. Whatley a neuropsychologist to assess Plaintiffs "neuropsychological/emotional functioning to assist in treatment planning." (R. at 0199.) Dr. Whatley performed a neuropsychological evaluation of Plaintiff on December 10, 2015. (R. at 0197.) She noted Plaintiff gave a suboptimal performance, specifically stating that during the consultation "[Plaintiffs] current[] neuropsychological test results may be an underestimation of his true abilities" and that there was "questionable effort being exerted" during his memory testing. (R. at 0207.) She also found that "[a]lthough [Plaintiff] complains of attention and concentration difficulties as well as memory dysfunction, his performance on measures of attention and concentration fell within normal limits." (R. at ...


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