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Date: 01-12-2001

Case Style: Jane G. Fitts v. Federal National Mortgage Association and Unum Life Insurance Company of America

Case Number: 99-5327

Judge: Per Curiam

Court: United States Circuit Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

Plaintiff's Attorney: John W. Witmeyer III and David E. Schreiber of Ford Marrin Esposito Witmeyer & Gleser, L.L.P., New York, New York

Defendant's Attorney: M. Carolyn Cox of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, Washington, D.C. for Federal National Mortgage Association and Frank C. Morris, Jr. and Ann M. Courtney of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C., Washington, D.c. for UNM Life Insurance Company of America

Description: Jane G. Fitts sued her former employer and the insurance company that administers claims under the employer's long-term disability plan, alleging that they violat- ed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) by terminating her disability benefits after 24 months.

Jane Fitts, an attorney, was employed by Fannie Mae from 1982 to 1995 and paid the required premiums for the long- term disability policy. In 1995, Fitts became disabled by bipolar disorder, an illness characterized by cycles of depres- sive and manic episodes. See Am. Psychiatric Ass'n, Diagnos- tic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 395 (4th ed. text rev. 2000). Fitts applied to Unum for benefits under the policy, which Unum granted. Because Unum classified her disorder as a mental illness, however, it limited her benefits to 24 months. Fitts unsuccessfully protested Unum's deci- sion, arguing that bipolar disorder is associated with changes in the physical structure of the brain and often runs in families, suggesting genetic causation. Unum asserts that it invited Fitts to submit additional medical information sup- porting her claims, but that she responded only with "conclu- sory" letters from her treating psychiatrist and two other psychiatrists. Fitts asserts that she signed a release permit- ting Unum to view her entire medical file, which contained data supporting her claim. Unum refused to alter its classifi- cation of bipolar disorder as a mental illness and ceased paying Fitts benefits after 24 months.

Fitts sued both Unum and Fannie Mae, contending that the termination of her benefits after 24 months violated Titles I and III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. ss 12101-12213. Title I prohibits a covered employer from discriminating "against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to ... [the] terms, conditions and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. s 12112(a). Title III prohibits discrimination "on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privi- leges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation ...." 42 U.S.C. s 12182(a). Fitts also claimed that the termination of her benefits violated ERISA, 29 U.S.C. ss 1001-1461, which entitles a participant or bene- ficiary of a covered plan "to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan," 29 U.S.C. s 1132(a)(1)(B).

The district court dismissed Fitts' ADA counts and granted sum- mary judgment against her on the ERISA count. <

Outcome: We affirm the dismissal of the ADA counts on the ground that the long- term disability plan comes within the safe harbor provisions of that statute. Because we conclude that the district court applied the wrong standard of review to the ERISA count, however, we reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

Plaintiff's Experts: Unknown

Defendant's Experts: Unknown

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