Argued: May 9, 2017
from the United States District Court for the District of
Maryland, at Baltimore. Marvin J. Garbis, Senior District
Michael Lee Junk, GROOM LAW GROUP, CHARTERED, Washington,
D.C., for Appellants.
Ben Abelson, ZUCKERMAN SPAEDER LLP, Baltimore, Maryland, for
BRIEF: Cyril V. Smith, ZUCKERMAN SPAEDER LLP, Baltimore,
Maryland, for Appellee.
MOTZ, SHEDD, and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges
by published opinion. Judge Duncan wrote the opinion, in
which Judge Motz and Judge Shedd joined.
DUNCAN, Circuit Judge
appeal raises the issue of whether the plan administrator for
Defendants-Appellants, the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL
Retirement Plan and the NFL Player Supplemental Disability
Plan (collectively, the "Plan"), abused its
discretion in denying a certain type of disability benefits
to Plaintiff-Appellee Jesse Solomon. After the plan
administrator determined that Solomon's disability-onset
date rendered him ineligible for the benefits he sought,
Solomon brought suit under § 502(a)(1)(B) of the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"),
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). The district court concluded
that Solomon was entitled to the benefits he claimed and
ordered the Plan to provide them. Because the Board failed to
follow a reasoned process or explain the basis of its
determination--neither addressing nor even acknowledging new
and uncontradicted evidence supporting Solomon's
application, including that of the Plan's own expert--we
are compelled to affirm.
played professional football in the National Football League
("NFL") for nine seasons before his retirement in
1995. During his football career, he sustained more than 69,
000 full-speed contact hits. As a result, he experienced
symptoms associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy
("CTE"), a degenerative brain condition caused by
repeated head trauma. He also suffered numerous knee injuries
requiring multiple operations. Solomon now suffers from
chronic knee pain, chronic headaches, depression, and anxiety
that doctors expect to worsen over time. These injuries
forced Solomon to resign from his post-NFL career as a high
school teacher and football coach in 2007. Because he was
unable to work, Solomon sought benefits under the Plan.
Before discussing his application for benefits, we first
explain the mechanics of the Plan.
Plan provides disability benefits to retired players who
become totally and permanently disabled ("TPD") as
a result of their football career. When a player seeks
benefits under the Plan, a two-person Disability Initial
Claims Committee ("the Committee") determines
whether the player is entitled to benefits. A player can
appeal the Committee's decision to the six-member
Retirement Board ("the Board"), which is composed
of three representatives appointed by the NFL Management
Council and three representatives appointed by the NFL
Players Association. If either the Committee or the Board
finds that the player is substantially prevented from or
substantially unable to work, he will be considered TPD.
Alternatively, if the Social ...