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Armani v. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

November 4, 2016

Avery Armani, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, a corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted October 3, 2016 Pasadena, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:13-cv-07058-RSWL-RZ Ronald S.W. Lew, Senior District Judge, Presiding

          Charles Fleishman (argued) and Paul A. Fleishman, The Fleishman Law Firm, Woodland Hills, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Linda M. Lawson (argued) and Charles K. Chineduh, Meserve Mumper & Hughes LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: Dorothy W. Nelson and Richard A. Paez, Circuit Judges, and Elaine E. Bucklo, [*] Senior District Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Employee Retirement Income Security Act

         The panel vacated in part the district court's judgment in favor of the defendant in part in plaintiff's action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, challenging a denial of benefits under a long term disability insurance policy.

         The administrative record showed that the plaintiff could not sit for more than four hours a day. The district court, reviewing de novo, nonetheless upheld the insurer's determination that the plaintiff could perform sedentary work. The panel held that the district court erred by rejecting the plaintiff's proposed definition of "sedentary" work on the basis that it was drawn from the Social Security context. Agreeing with other circuits, the panel held that an employee who cannot sit for more than four hours in an eight-hour workday cannot perform "sedentary" work that requires "sitting most of the time."

         The panel vacated the part of the district court's judgment denying the plaintiff his long term disability benefits and remanded for further proceedings.

          OPINION

          D.W. NELSON, Senior Circuit Judge:

         Avery Armani (Armani) appeals the district court's judgment denying him benefits under his long term disability policy sponsored by his employer and issued by Appellee Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company (Northwestern Mutual). We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we VACATE the part of the judgment denying Armani benefits and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         Armani worked as a full-time controller for the Renaissance Insurance Agency (Renaissance) from November 3, 2008 to May 18, 2011. On January 6, 2011, during the normal course of his employment, Armani injured his back while lifting a heavy backup power supply. A family practitioner treated Armani on January 26, 2011, and diagnosed a lumbar region sprain, muscle spasms, and sciatica. A chiropractor, Dr. Brian Padveen, later treated Armani, restricted him to modified work effective April 13, 2011, and instructed Armani not to sit continuously without the ability to change position. On April 19, 2011, an MRI revealed minor disc desiccation as well as disc bulge and annular tear. Armani stopped working on May 18, 2011 as a result of his increasing back pain. Dr. Padveen determined the next day that Armani was unable to ...


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