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NY Judge Won't Reassign Unum Disability Lawsuit Over Question of Impropriety

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New York, NYA New York magistrate judge presiding over an Unum disability lawsuit alleging that First Unum Life Insurance improperly terminated a woman's disability coverage refused to remove herself from the case after the plaintiff's attorney questioned whether that judge had represented the insurer six years ago while a partner at Proskauer Rose LLP.

According to Law360 (1/20/17), US Magistrate Judge Katharine H. Parker, who left Proskauer in 2016 after being appointed to magistrate judgeship in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued an order on January 20, 2017, stating that she would not reassign the case to a different judge. Parker's order responded to a letter from Jeffrey Delott, an attorney representing plaintiff Cherylle McFarlane, in which he raised questions of judicial impropriety.

"I am certainly not asserting that there is definitive evidence that Your Honor's integrity, impartiality, temperament or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired,” wrote Delott in the letter. “However, given that Your Honor has previously represented First Unum, especially since it is unclear until when Your Honor stopped representing First Unum at Proskauer, I am obligated . . . to ask whether a reasonable mind would find at least an appearance of impropriety."

McFarlane filed a lawsuit in October 2016 against First Unum for terminating her disability coverage. For nearly two years, McFarlane received $5,459 per month in long-term disability based on her fibromyalgia diagnosis before First Unum ended her coverage in January 2016.

According to the Unum lawsuit, McFarlane v. First Unum Life Insurance Co., Case No. 1:16-cv-07806, McFarlane claimed that First Unum ended her disability coverage without any medical testing or examination to determine whether her condition had changed and that First Unum also refused to send her a copy of her group policy contract.

Unum, the largest disability insurance provider in the US, has written disability insurance policies for approximately 17 million Americans and has also systematically denied countless insurance claims. A few of Unum's denial tactics include improperly investigating claims and refusing to acknowledge disabilities such as mental disorders, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

In his letter to Judge Parker, Delott cited two published opinions from 2010 "where it appears that Your Honor represented First Unum while a partner at Proskauer Rose.

In response, Judge Parker issued an order stating that "Plaintiff's counsel is incorrect. Neither[Judge Parker] nor Proskauer Rose LLP represented First Unum in either case" cited in Delott's letter.

According to the order, "Plaintiff's counsel has shown no personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, and no aspect of the undersigned's previous affiliation with Proskauer Rose LLP representation of First Unum in a wholly unrelated matter sometime in the unspecified past would justify recusal," wrote Parker.

"No reasonable person fully informed of the facts could reasonably question this Court's impartiality in this matter."

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