United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON SUPPLEMENTAL MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS'
R. Underhill United States District Judge
Schuman previously moved for attorneys' fees and costs
under section 502(g)(1) of the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §
1132(g)(1), arguing that he was entitled to fees and costs
because he obtained a remand order in his suit against Aetna
Life Insurance Co. (as claims administrator), Ahold USA's
Master Welfare Benefit Plan, and the Administrative Committee
of Ahold USA (as plan administrator). On June 20, 2017, I
issued an order granting attorneys' fees but sharply
reducing the award to less than one-quarter of Schuman's
requested amount. See Schuman v. Aetna Life Ins.
Co., 2017 WL 2662191 (D. Conn. June 20, 2017). Schuman
now seeks an additional $9, 173.75 in “fees for
fees” to compensate him “for time spent . . .
reviewing defendants' opposition [to the motion for
attorneys' fees], reviewing Court orders, research[ing]
and drafting the Reply brief, and drafting [his] motion for
supplemental fees.” See Suppl. Mot.
Attorneys' Fees, Doc. No. 91, at 1.
$38, 627.50 I previously awarded “adequately-even
generously”-“compensate[d] Schuman for his
limited success on the merits.” See Schuman,
2017 WL 2662191, at *10. Consistent with my
“substantial discretion in fixing the amount of an
[ERISA] fee award, ” see Comm'r, INS v.
Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 163 (1990), I decline to award
Schuman additional fees for the time spent preparing and
litigating his inflated attorneys' fees application.
Standard of Review
1132(g)(1) of ERISA provides that “[i]n any action
under this subchapter . . . by a participant, beneficiary, or
fiduciary, the court in its discretion may allow a reasonable
attorney's fee and costs of action to either
party.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). The Supreme Court
has held that, under the language of the statute, “a
fee claimant need not be a ‘prevailing party' to be
eligible for an attorney's fees award.” Hardt
v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U.S. 242, 252
(2010). Instead, a claimant need only “show ‘some
degree of success on the merits' before a court may award
attorney's fees under [section] 1132(g)(1).”
Id. at 255 (quoting Ruckelshaus v. Sierra
Club, 463 U.S. 680, 694 (1983)). “[S]ome degree of
success on the merits” demands more than
“‘trivial success on the merits' or a
‘purely procedural victor[y].'” Id.
(quoting Ruckelshaus, 463 U.S. at 688 n.9). The
court must be able to “fairly call the outcome of the
litigation some success on the merits without conducting a
lengthy inquir[y] into the question whether a particular
party's success was ‘substantial' or occurred
on a ‘central issue.'” Id. (quoting
Ruckelshaus, 463 U.S. at 688 n.9) (other internal
quotation marks omitted).
a plaintiff has obtained some degree of success on the merits
is the sole factor that a court must consider in
exercising its discretion, ” but the court may
also look to the factors set forth in Chambless v.
Masters, Mates & Pilots Pension Plan, 815 F.2d 869
(2d Cir. 1987). See Donachie v. Liberty Life Assurance
Co. of Bos., 745 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 2014). Under
Chambless, in determining whether to award
attorneys' fees, the court may consider:
(1) the degree of opposing parties' culpability or bad
(2) [the] ability of opposing parties to satisfy an award of
(3) whether an award of attorneys' fees against the
opposing parties would deter other persons acting under
(4) whether the parties requesting attorneys' fees sought
to benefit all participants and beneficiaries of an ERISA
plan or to resolve a significant legal question regarding
ERISA itself; and
(5) the relative merits of the parties' positions.
Donachie, 745 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting
Hardt, 560 U.S. at 249 n.1; citing
Chambless, 815 F.2d at 871 (same factors, but with
order of fourth and fifth factors reversed)). Because
“Congress intended the fee provisions of ERISA to
encourage beneficiaries to enforce their statutory rights,
” those provisions “must be liberally construed
to protect the statutory purpose.” Slupinski v.
First Unum Life Ins. Co., 554 F.3d 38, 47 (2d Cir. 2009)
(internal quotation marks omitted). In particular,
“granting a prevailing plaintiff's request for fees
is appropriate absent ‘some particular justification
for not doing so.'” Donachie, 745 F.3d at
47 (quoting Birmingham v. SoGen-Swiss Int'l Corp.
Ret. Plan, 718 F.2d 515, 523 (2d Cir. 1983)).
background of this case is set forth at length in Schuman
v. Aetna Life Insurance Co., 2017 WL 1053853, at *2-*9
(D. Conn. Mar. 20, 2017). After I remanded Schuman's
long-term disability claim to the claims administrator,
Schuman moved for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount
of approximately $167, 000, arguing that had obtained
“some degree of success on the merits” as
required to recover attorneys' fees under ERISA. See
Schuman, 2017 WL 2662191, at *3. The defendants opposed
Schuman's motion, contending that Schuman “did not
achieve any ‘degree ...