United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF
filed suit against Defendants under the Employee Retirement
Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), claiming that
they wrongfully terminated his disability benefits. This
Court originally found in favor of Defendants. On appeal, the
Sixth Circuit held that Defendants' denial was arbitrary
and capricious because it did not adequately explain why
Plaintiff's medications and treatment plans failed to
satisfy the plan's requirement for objective findings of
a disability. It ordered that the case be remanded to the
administrator for a “full and fair review”
consistent with its opinion. Corey v. Sedgwick Claims
Mgt. Servs., Inc., 858 F.3d 1024 (6th Cir.
2017). Now pending before the Court are Plaintiff's
Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 54), which Defendants oppose,
and Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Notice
of Supplemental Authority (Doc. 58), which Plaintiff has not
opposed. For the reasons that follow, both motions are
ERISA action to recover benefits, “the court in its
discretion may allow a reasonable attorney's fee...to
either party.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). To receive
fees, a party must have “achieved some degree of
success on the merits.” Hardt v. Reliance Standard
Life Ins. Co., 560 U.S. 242 (2010). The court then
considers five factors to determine if an award is warranted:
(1) the degree of the opposing party's culpability or bad
faith; (2) the opposing party's ability to satisfy an
award of attorney's fees; (3) the deterrent effect of an
award on other persons under similar circumstances; (4)
whether the party requesting fees sought to confer a common
benefit on all participants and beneficiaries of an ERISA
plan or resolve significant legal questions regarding ERISA;
and (5) the relative merits of the parties' positions.
McKay v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 428
Fed.Appx. 537, 546 (6th Cir. 2011).
achieving a remand, Plaintiff has demonstrated a sufficient
degree of success on the merits to warrant consideration of
attorney fees. Id. at 546-47 (holding that plaintiff
achieved some degree of success by persuading the court to
remand to the administrator).
the Sixth Circuit's analysis, the Court finds that the
first factor weighs slightly in favor of granting fees. There
is no evidence of bad faith in this case. However, the Sixth
Circuit held that the plan's definition of
“objective findings” was clear and unambiguous
and that Defendants' interpretation of the term was
unsupported by the plan's terms. Corey, 858 F.3d
at 1028. It also held that Defendants' denial letters
never explained why Plaintiff's medications and treatment
plans did not satisfy the plan's definition of objective
findings. This failure shows some degree of culpability. But,
in light of multiple physicians' conclusions that the
record was devoid of any physical or neurological
abnormalities and that Plaintiff's headaches did not
render him unable to perform his job, Defendants did not act
with a high degree of culpability.
second factor favors Plaintiff because Defendants do not
dispute that they are able to satisfy a fee award.
Sixth Circuit's decision to remand, along with a fee
award, will provide “a deterrent effect for plan
administrators to avoid failing to provide the necessary full
and fair review.” McKay, 428 Fed.Appx. at 546.
The third factor thus weighs in favor of an award, although
only slightly because this factor “is likely to have
more significance in a case where the defendant is highly
culpable.” Foltice v. Guardsman Prods., Inc.,
98 F.2d 993, 997 (6th Cir. 1996).
fourth factor weighs against a fee award because Plaintiff
admits that he seeks benefits only for himself, and he has
provided no evidence that he brought this case to resolve any
significant legal issues. See Shelby Cty. Health Care
Corp. v. Majestic Star Casino, 581 F.3d 355, 378 (6th
Cir. 2009); Moon v. Unum Provident Corp., 461 F.3d
639, 645 (6th Cir. 2006).
to the Sixth Circuit, there was no support for
Defendants' interpretation of its plan. Plaintiff also
overcame the arbitrary and capricious standard to achieve a
remand. The final factor, thus, favors Plaintiff.
McKay, 428 Fed.Appx. at 546; Blajei v. Sedgwick
Claims Mgt. Servs., Inc., 2010 WL 3855239, at *8 (E.D.
Mich. Sept. 28, 2010).
all but the fourth factor favor an award of fees,
Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees is GRANTED.
Defendant's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Notice of
Supplemental Authority (Doc. 58) is GRANTED as unopposed. The
case that Plaintiff cites in its notice of supplemental
authority addresses the amount of attorney fees to be
awarded, not the propriety of granting fees, as is at issue
here. As such, it is irrelevant. In accordance with this