Jan 272014

Karen McClain’s pain management physician certified her as capable of performing only part-time sedentary work. Nevertheless, in reliance upon that opinion, her long-term disability claim was terminated. During the course of a pair of unsuccessful administrative appeals, physicians retained by the claim administrator concluded that full-time work was possible, and those conclusions played a prominent role in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision affirming a District Court’s determination to uphold the benefit termination.

In dicta, however, the Sixth Circuit indicated that even if the conclusions reached by those other physicians were not entertained (that is to say, even if the opinion of Ms. McClain’s pain management physician were the sole consideration), the same result would obtain because a claimant who is capable of engaging in part-time work is ipso facto unable to demonstrate that he or she is incapable of performing “any work for compensation or profit.” In other words, the ability to work part-time is, in the Sixth Circuit’s view, incompatible with the notion of disability, at least insofar was that term was defined in Ms. McClain’s plan.

The Sixth Circuit’s position marks a dangerous (and, in our view, erroneous) incursion on the rights of disability claimants, and we will monitor the issue for further developments.

McClain v. Eaton Corp. Disability Plan, 740 F.3d 1059 (6th Cir. 2014)

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