United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Madeline Cox Arleo United States District Judge
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
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. See Declaration of J. Brooke Hern
(“Hern Decl.”), p. 3, ECF 35-1. He also incurred
a filing fee of $400.00. Id.
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.” 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.
Attorney's Fees: The Ursic Test
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.
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.
Culpability or Bad Faith
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)).
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.