The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This was an ERISA suit to overturn the denial of enrollment eligibility for Joseph R. Huss, Jr., Plaintiff Eileen Huss's 25 year old mentally disabled son, in the employee welfare plan sponsored and administered by Plaintiff's former employer, IBM. On March 20, 2009, I granted summary judgment for Plaintiff and found that Joseph R. Huss Jr. was entitled to be immediately enrolled in the IBM Medical and Dental Plan ("the Plan"). Additionally, in my March 20th
opinion, I granted Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on her claim for statutory penalties pursuant to 29 U.S.C § 1132(c)(1). What remains for me to determine is the amount of statutory penalties to be imposed on Defendants. For the reasons set forth below, I impose statutory penalties on Defendants in the amount of $15,220.00.
ERISA requires plan administrators to provide specific information, such as "the latest updated summary, plan description. . . or other instruments under which the plan is established or operated," within 30 days of written request. 29 U.S.C § 1024(b)(4). Failure to comply with such a request can result in fines imposed under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1). Ames v. American National Can Co., 170 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 1999).
The maximum penalty for such a violation is $110.00 for each day a request within the scope of § 1024(b)(4) is refused. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c); 29 C.F.R. § 2575.502c-1. Prior versions of summary plan descriptions ("SPDs") requested by a plan participant fall within the scope of the penalty provisions of 29 U.S. C. §§ 1132(c) and 1024(b)(4) if they are material to an evaluation of the claimant's rights. See Ames, 170 F.3d at 759. As I previously held in my order granting Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, the SPDs in effect on June 9, 2004 and the intervening amendments to the SPD published up until the version relied upon by IBM in 2006 were "critically important documents in evaluating Huss's rights."
"Because the statute provides no criteria to guide determination of the amount to be awarded within that limit, that determination is left to the discretion of the district judge." Lowe v. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 361 F.3d 335, 338 (7th Cir. 2004). Among the factors courts consider when making penalty determinations are "bad faith or intentional conduct on the part of the administrator, the length of the delay, the number of requests made and documents withheld, and the existence of any prejudice." Jackson v. E.J. Brach Corp., 937 F.Supp 735, 741 (N.D. Ill 1996). As recognized by the Seventh Circuit, "fines may be necessary to make employers take seriously their disclosure obligations when an actual lack of information results from the employer's reluctance to respond to a request for information." Ames, 170 F.3d at 760. The severity of fines imposed, within the court's discretion, can be a nominal amount when no bad faith is apparent and plaintiffs are not substantially prejudiced*fn1 or more substantial when conduct is intentional or indifferent.*fn2 Additionally, it has been held that a plaintiff is prejudiced by the mere fact that defendant's conduct has forced them to continually request documents, spend time disputing a claim, or hire an attorney. Pisek v. Kindred Healthcare Inc., No. 06-cv-372, 2007 U.S. Dist LEXIS 51896, at *19-20 (S.D. Ind. July 17, 2007).
Although Plaintiff asks this Court to use its discretion and apply a maximum statutory penalty of $110 for each day an individual document was delayed, this view is inconsistent with the statute which states that the maximum fine per day to be imposed is $110. Furthermore, Plaintiffs cite no case where the application of penalties to multiple documents exceeds the statutory maximum of $110 per day.*fn3 Defendants, on the other hand, assert that this Court use its discretion to assign no statutory penalty.
Plaintiff proposes that the following documents qualify for the imposition of penalties:
A. Documents Requested Via Email on January 23, 2007: Due on February 22, 2007
(1) SPD published August 5, 2003
B. Documents Requested Via Letter on March 27, 2007: Due ...