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Ruth v. Comcast Corp.

September 26, 2006

JENNIFER RUTH, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COMCAST CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Thomas M. Rose

ENTRY AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AWARD INTEREST AND ATTORNEYS' FEES. (DOC. 11).

Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Award Interest and Attorneys' Fees.*fn1 The instant case stems from a complaint alleging wrongful denial of disability benefits under E.R.I.S.A., 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a). Doc. 1. Defendant denied the allegations, asserting that Plaintiff was not entitled to the benefits she sought. Doc. 3. When it came time for Defendant to supply the Court with a copy of the administrative record in the case, however, it discovered that it had none. The parties jointly agreed to stay the action and recreate an administrative record. Doc. 6. This exercise resulted in Defendant agreeing that Plaintiff deserved the benefits she sought and a payment of attorney's fees for the efforts Plaintiff undertook from the time of filing the complaint to the order staying the case to recreate the administrative record. All that remains for the Court to decide is Plaintiff's entitlement to attorney's fees and prejudgment interest. Plaintiff seeks payment of attorneys' fees from the time of the remand to the present. Plaintiff also seeks interest on the back disability payments dating from October 2001 to February 2006, totaling $1,456.17 (plus interest accrued in the interim), attorneys' fees of $5,523.25, and expenses totaling $620.22.

I. Background

Plaintiff Jennifer Ruth was an employee of MediaOne Group, Inc. when blindness rendered her disabled in 1999. At that time, Plaintiff was a participant in the MediaOne Modified Disability Pension Plan ("Plan"), an employee benefit plan as defined by 29 U.S.C. § 1002(3) and 29 U.S.C. § 1140. MediaOne initially paid disability benefits to Plaintiff.

Eventually, AT&T Broadband acquired MediaOne Group. Thereafter, the MediaOne plan was merged into the AT&T Broadband's plan. AT&T Broadband was the plan sponsor of the plan and also apparently served as claims administrator. On September 26, 2001, AT&T Broadband determined Plaintiff was no longer entitled to benefit payments. According to correspondence provided by Plaintiff to Comcast, AT&T Broadband's initial decision was based on the following reasoning:

Employees must follow the recommended treatment plan, and your treatment plan requires continuing care. You did not follow through on the treatment recommendations of your provider (and/or Health Services). (Section 4.1.a).

When Plaintiff appealed, AT&T Broadband affirmed its decision on December 12, 2001, stating:

Employees must follow the recommended treatment plan, and your treatment plan requires continuing care. You did not follow through on the treatment recommendations of your provider (and/or Health Services). (Section 4.1.d)

Medical information was received and, although it provided objective findings, those findings are insufficient to substantiate the inability to perform the normal duties of your regular job or other job duties in a modified capacity. (Section 4:1.e)

No one contest, however, that Plaintiff remained totally blind in one eye and 75% blind in the other.

In November of 2002, Comcast acquired AT&T Broadband and as part of that acquisition, became responsible for the disability benefits under the AT&T Broadband Plan.

On September 14, 2004, Plaintiff filed the instant action, challenging the denial of benefits. During the district court proceedings, Defendants were unable to locate files pertaining to Plaintiff's benefit request. The parties agreed to have Plaintiff to reassert her claims under the terms of the Plan in effect at the time of the initial decision and to conduct a new review of her claim. Plaintiff resubmitted evidence related to her claim for review at the hearing, and Defendants paid Plaintiff's counsel $5,000 for attorneys' fees incurred by Plaintiff in connection with the proceedings. This resulted in the Court's April 18, 2005 Agreed Order remanding the case to the administrative level for further proceedings. Eventually, the Plan Administrator determined that Plaintiff was entitled to benefits for the entire time period at issue.

However, Defendants continued to refuse to pay the back benefits until Plaintiff executed a release. This led to further discussions between counsel for the parties as to how to resolve the matter. On December 1, 2005, the parties issued a Status Report to the Court stating that Defendant's had determined that Plaintiff was eligible for and should have received long term disability benefits pursuant to applicable Plan provisions from October, 2001 to the present, and continuing. The parties requested the Court to schedule a telephone status conference for the purpose of returning the case to this Court for further proceedings concerning payment of past due benefits, attorneys' fees, and interest due.

On January 20, 2006 a conference call was conducted with the Court which resulted in an agreement whereby Defendants were to pay Plaintiff all of her unpaid disability benefits. An Agreed Order was approved by the Court on February 13, 2006, directing Defendants to pay $11,620.25 to Plaintiff for back benefits owed to her. Furthermore, the Agreed Order stated that beginning on March 1, 2006, Defendants would pay Plaintiff her regular monthly benefit of $219.25 per month, based upon the conclusion that Plaintiff has been and continues to be disabled, and is therefore eligible for benefits in accordance with applicable Plan documents. Finally, the ...


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