On June 19 the Supreme Court issued its much anticipated decision in Metlife v Glenn regarding the conflict of interest created by a long term disability insurer who both determines whether an insured is eligible for benefits and pays benefits out of its own pockets.
Justice Breyer authored the majority opinion confirming that when a plan administrator both evaluates claims for benefits and pays those benefits a conflict of interest is created which requires the reviewing court to weigh that conflict as a factor in determining whether there was an abuse of discretion.
The majority opinion reaffirms the principles first identified in the Firestone decision. Any practitioners who were hoping this decision might change the landscape are sure to be dissapointed as the Court specfically recognized that it was not providing any detailed set of instructions on determining the effect of the insurer’s conflict on its ultimate decision to deny benefits.
Interestingly, Justice Scalia in dissent claims that “Notwithstanding the Court’s assurances to the contrary, that [the majorities combination of factors method of review] is nothing but de novo review in sheeps clothing.”