Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Patterson v. Aetna Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 27, 2018

CHRISTOPHER PATTERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Hon. Madeline Cox Arleo United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff Christopher Patterson's (“Plaintiff” or “Patterson”) motion for attorney's fees, interest, and costs after summary judgment was entered against Defendant Aetna Life Insurance (“Defendant” or “Aetna) in this action under the Employee Income Retirement Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). 29 U.S.C. § 1101; Summary Judgment Order, ECF No. 33. For the reasons set forth herein, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff has filed a timely application for an award of attorney's fees, expenses, and interests in accordance with 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). Specifically, Plaintiff requests $38, 610.00 for attorney's fees payable to J. Brooke Hern, past due benefits in the amount of $219, 767.42, pre-judgment interest in the amount of $42, 193.03, costs in the amount of $400.00, and post-judgment interest to be calculated by the Court. Plaintiff's Application (“Pl. Application”) p. 7, ECF No. 35. Hern declares that he performed 125.40 hours of legal work over the course of the litigation, at a rate of $450.00 per hour for a total of $38, 610.00 in legal fees.[1] See Declaration of J. Brooke Hern (“Hern Decl.”), p. 3, ECF 35-1. He also incurred a filing fee of $400.00. Id.

         B. Defendant's Response

         Defendant opposes Plaintiff's counsel's fee application and his interest calculation. See Defendant's Memorandum in Opposition (“Def.'s Opp.”) p. 1, ECF No. 38. Defendant asserts that any attorney's fee award should be no larger than $19, 000, claiming that Plaintiff's attorney seeks to be reimbursed for “more than 20 hours of time spent pressing for pointless and irrelevant discovery of information outside for the administrative record.”[2] Id. at 7-8. Defendant also asserts that Plaintiff's interest calculation is incorrect. Id. at 9. Instead, Defendant asserts that the correct prejudgment interest calculation is $3, 518.62. Id. There is no dispute regarding the rate Plaintiff's attorney charges or the requested $400 filing fee.

         II. Discussion

         A. Attorney's Fees: The Ursic Test

         The ERISA statute provides for fee shifting and allows “a reasonable fee and costs of action to either party.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). In Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., the Supreme Court held that “a fees claimant must show ‘some degree of success on the merits' before a court may award attorney's fees under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1).” 560 U.S. 242, 255 (2010) (citing Ruckelshaus v. Sierra Club, 463 U.S. 680, 694, (1983)). Aetna does not dispute that Plaintiff has achieved this threshold qualification. Def.'s Opp at 2.

         In addition to the threshold qualification requirements for an ERISA fee award, the Third Circuit applies a five factor test in assessing fee requests. See Ursic v. Bethlehem Mines, 719 F.2d 670 (3d Cir. 1983). The Ursic test requires consideration of the following factors: (1) the offending parties' culpability or bad faith; (2) the deterrent effect of an an award of attorney's fees; (3) the ability of the offending parties to satisfy an award of attorney's fees; (4) the benefit conferred upon members of the pension plan as a whole; and (5) the relative merits of the parties positions. See Templin v. Independence Blue Cross., 785 F.3d 861 (3d Cir. 2015). The Court will analyze these factors in turn.

         1. Culpability or Bad Faith

         The first factor is the culpability or bad faith by the offending party. The Court finds that this factor weighs in favor of granting fees. “Culpability exists when a particular action is wrongful, even if the party committing it lacked malicious purpose.” Music v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., No. 05-1223, 2007 WL 3085606, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 19, 2007). “Under this broad definition, courts have found illogical, arbitrary, or capricious denials of ERISA benefits to be culpable.” Id. (citing Brown v. Cont'l Cas. Co., No. 99-6124, 2005 WL 1949610, at *1 (E.D.Pa. Aug.11, 2005)).

         Here, the Court determined that Aetna acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying benefits and narrowly construing “own occupation.” Opinion at 16, 20. Therefore, applying the broad definition of culpability, the Court finds that Aetna acted in a culpable manner, and the first Ursic factor weighs in favor of a fee award.

         2. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.