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Cheney v. Standard Ins. Co.

831 F.3d 445 (7th Cir. 2016)

Words & Phrases

Life And Disability Insurance: Total Disability

Trial Judge

Susan Cox

Appellate Judge



Finding that plaintiff was disabled not supported by the evidence.

Fact Summary

Carole Cheney was an attorney at Kirk-land & Ellis, LLP (Kirkland) for approximately 20 years. She became a partner at the firm in 1997. She suffered from a spinal disease that first led her to seek accommodations in 1994, and ultimately resulted in a three-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion and removal of her C5 vertebra in 2012.

Although Cheney had managed to work for many years despite her condition, by 2012 she had had enough, and so she submitted a claim for long-term disability benefits in July 2012. Standard Insurance Company ("Standard"), Kirkland's insurer, denied her claim based on a finding that her coverage had ended in March of 2012, and that she was able at least through March to perform her job. After Standard refused to reconsider its position, Cheney sued in federal district court, raising claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1132. The court found in favor of Cheney, and Standard appeals. Because the district court made unsupported factual findings and misinterpreted the governing documents, we vacate its decision and remand for a new trial.