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Roth v. The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 28, 2014

James
v.
Roth, Plaintiff,
v.
The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Defendant.

Alesia R. Strand, Esq., and Thomas J. Beedem, III, Esq., Beedem Law Office, counsel for Plaintiff.

Benjamin C. Johnson, Esq. and Erik T. Salveson, Esq., Nilan Johnson Lewis PA, counsel for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DONOVAN W. FRANK, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment brought by Defendant The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company ("Defendant"). (Doc. No. 15.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff James Roth ("Roth") maintained five separate disability insurance policies through Defendant until those policies lapsed in January and April 2003. (Doc. No. 19 ("Schwallie Aff.") ¶ 35, Ex. 32.) In August 2009, Roth applied for benefits under the policies' waiver of premium provisions, claiming that he became totally disabled by January 1, 2003, because he was suffering from bipolar disorder. ( Id. ¶ 29, Ex. 26.) Defendant denied his claim, and Roth brought this lawsuit. ( Id. ¶ 31, Ex. 28.)

Roth is an attorney who began his legal career at Leonard, Street and Deinard, P.A. (Doc. No. 20 ("Salveson Aff.") ¶ 2, Ex. 33 ("Roth Dep. Vol. I.") at 16-17.) In 1997, Roth was hired as a partner by Messerli & Kramer, P.A. ( Id. at 22-23.) Roth continues to hold a license to practice law in the state of Minnesota, although he was placed on inactive status in 2011.

In December 2001, Roth visited his physician complaining of depression. (Schwallie Aff. ¶ 9, Ex. 6 at 6.4.) The physician prescribed an antidepressant. ( Id. ) Roth had two more appointments with his physician in late 2002 and early 2003, but the treatment notes from those appointments do not mention any mental health concern. ( Id. at 6.5-6.6.) Not until June 2003 did Roth again see his physician because of depression, and at that time the physician again prescribed an antidepressant with no psychiatric follow-up. ( Id. at 6.6.)

Roth left the law firm in the spring of 2003, ostensibly to pursue other business opportunities, although he maintained his law practice in an "of counsel, " part-time capacity. ( Id. ¶ 11, Ex. 8.) He now claims that his departure was because of his bipolar disorder; he was in a manic phase and had grandiose plans to build a business developing a line of women's clothing. By mid-July 2003, however, the manic phase had ended and Roth was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for two weeks of inpatient treatment. ( Id. ¶ 9, Ex. 6 at 6.9.)

Roth returned to work after his release from treatment, and his physician noted that he was preparing for a trial in November 2003. (Salveson Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. 34 ("Roth Dep. Vol. II") at 179-80 (Roth was working six hours per day in September 2003 to prepare for an arbitration proceeding); Schwallie Aff. ¶ 9, Ex. 6 at 6.27 (Oct. 14, 2003, doctor's note).) The few medical records for this period indicate that Roth was functioning well. Indeed, he told his physician in February and April 2004 that he was working full-time. (Roth Dep. Vol. II at 187-90; Schwallie Aff. ¶ 9, Ex. 6 at 6.30.)

Roth ended his employment with Messerli & Kramer in February 2004. (Doc. No. 25 ("Roth Aff.") ¶ 10.) Roth claims that he was hospitalized three additional times between 2005 and 2008.[1] ( Id. ¶¶ 15, 16, 22.) But in 2007, Roth was able to return to the legal profession as what he characterizes as a "law clerk, " although he sought reinstatement of his law license at that time so that he could represent clients in court proceedings.[2] (Roth Dep. Vol. I at 72-73.) Roth also sought disability benefits from the Social Security Administration in 2006 and ultimately received benefits of more than $2, 000 per month. (Schwallie Aff. ¶ 24, Ex. 21.) In September 2009, however, his physician noted that Roth "CAN work, " albeit not as a trial attorney. (Roth Dep. Vol. II at 202-03.)

There is no dispute that Roth stopped paying the premiums on his five disability insurance policies in late 2002 or early 2003 and that they all lapsed.[3] The earliest lapse occurred on January 14, 2003, and the latest lapse occurred on April 23, 2003. (Schwallie Aff. ¶ 35, Ex. 32.) Roth claims that these policies should be reinstated under the waiver-of-premium provisions each policy contains. ( See, e.g., Schwallie Aff. ¶ 2, Ex. 1 ("Policy No. D1218485") § 2.9.) Further, Roth argues that his claim for benefits under the policies is timely because it was made within a "reasonable time" after the onset of his ...


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