This Note analyzes the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's standard of review in cases in which a conflicted administrator has denied benefits. Part I of this Note examines early standards of review prior to ERISA. Part II sets forth the split among the circuits in evaluating a conflicted administrator's denial of benefits and explains the Ninth Circuit's former standard. Part ill compares the Ninth Circuit's prior standard of finding such denials presumptively void with its recent holding in Abatie v. Alta Health & Life Insurance Company, in which the court effectively adopted a unique standard similar to a "sliding scale" used by other circuits that considers the extent to which a conflict of interest may alter the "abuse of discretion" standard. Part IV argues that the Ninth Circuit took a positive step in lessening the burden on plaintiffs in such cases, but left the district courts without guidance as to the extent a conflict of interest may alter the "abuse of discretion" standard. Part IV concludes that by adopting the Tenth Circuit's approach, whereby a conflict is categorized in addition to being weighed on a "sliding scale," the Ninth Circuit could provide clearer direction to district courts for balancing a conflict of interest with all the facts in cases in which benefits have been denied.
Jill V. Cartwright,
Why Fight Fought?: A Missed ERISA Opportunity in the Ninth Circuit, 37 Golden Gate U. L. Rev.