In 2010, Chief Justice John Roberts observed that that ERISA is “an enormously complex and detailed statute.” Conkright v. Frommert, 559 U.S. 506, 509 (2010).

Some things don’t change. A recent decision out of the District Court of New Jersey exemplifies how even the most seemingly mundane procedural act — removal — implicates legal nuances with which courts continue to grapple.
Continue Reading D.N.J. Rejects Plaintiff’s Fee Request In Connection With State Court Remand Of Action Removed Under ERISA, Scaling Back Earlier Charge That Defendant’s Removal Was Nonsensical

In Ariana M. v. Humana Health Plan of Texas, Inc., No. 18-20700, 2019 WL 5866677 (5th Cir. Nov. 8, 2019), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a plaintiff’s petition for attorneys’ fees under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g).  This case concerns Humana Health Plan of Texas, Inc.’s denial of benefits for hospitalization to treat an eating disorder.  On a prior appeal, Ariana M. v. Humana Health Plan of Texas, Inc., 884 F.3d 246 (5th Cir. 2018) (en banc) (“Ariana I”), the Fifth Circuit concluded that the District Court erred by conducting a deferential review of the claim decision, that it remanded the case for a de novo review of Humana’s decision.

On remand and de novo review, the District Court found Humana had not erred and entered summary judgment in Humana’s favor.  Nonetheless, Ariana filed a fee petition, asserting that her success in Ariana I in convincing the appellate court to change the standard of review and remand her case entitled her to fees regardless of whether she ultimately won her claim for benefits.  The District Court denied her petition.


Continue Reading Remand Directing Change in Standard of Judicial Review Is Not Sufficient Success on the Merits to Support Attorneys’ Fee Award

In a recent summary order in an ERISA LTD benefits case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a plaintiff’s appeal concerning the amount of attorneys’ fees awarded by the district court. In Solnin v. Sun Life and Health Insurance Co. et al., after plaintiff prevailed on her claim for benefits, her counsel filed a motion seeking attorneys’ fees of over $515,000, along with costs and interest. Plaintiff’s attorneys, who had their offices in Manhattan (Southern District of New York), argued that their rates should be fixed at Southern District rates, rather than the typically lower rates used in the Eastern District of New York where the case was litigated. The District Court (Hurley, J.) determined that the local rates for the Eastern District should apply. The District Court also found that a 25 percent across-the-board reduction in fees was appropriate given that plaintiff’s counsel had engaged in “impermissible billing practices” including vague descriptions, block billing, and questionable entries, and further noting that decisions in similar cases seemed to suggest that the firm had “a pattern of excessive billing for their time considering their experience.” Solnin I, 2018 WL 4853046 (E.D.N.Y., Sept. 28, 2018). The District Court ultimately awarded slightly over $222,000 in fees, instead of the $500,000-plus that plaintiff had requested.
Continue Reading Second Circuit Upholds Reduction of Attorneys’ Fees Sought in ERISA Benefits Case

In Gross v. Sun Life Assur. Co. of Can., No. 09-11678-RWZ, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107918 (D. Mass. June 28, 2018), a District Court decided the appropriate prejudgment interest rate for a Kentucky resident was the Massachusetts prejudgment rate (12 percent) rather than the federal rate at the time (.37 percent). The District Court awarded attorney’s fees in the amount of $625 per hour for Plaintiff’s Boston lawyer but refused to increase the rate for Plaintiff’s Kentucky lawyer in accordance with the Boston market rate. The Court also refused to compensate the Kentucky lawyer for work performed during the phases of litigation “infected” by misconduct.  
Continue Reading Court Awards Pre-Judgment Interest To Kentucky Plaintiff at Massachusetts State Rate but Declines Boston Attorney Rates for Kentucky Lawyer

Gross v. Sun Life Assur. Co. of Canada, 763 F.3d 73 (1st Cir. 2014), a divided decision, concerned the question whether a remand by the First Circuit to the administrator qualified for an award of attorneys’ fees. In a prior decision, Gross v. Sun Life Assur. Co. of Canada, 734 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2013), the court had accepted plaintiff’s argument that deferential review was not triggered by plan language requiring that proof of disability be “satisfactory to” the insurer. Gross 2013 also found that the administrative record was inadequate to assess plaintiff’s entitlement to benefits, and remanded to the administrator. Plaintiff then apparently filed a motion with the First Circuit seeking attorneys’ fees for the litigation in the district court and on appeal, leading to Gross 2014.
Continue Reading Remand May Be Sufficient Success on the Merits to Support Attorneys’ Fee Award