United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
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Troy A. Doles, Schlichter Bogard & Denton, Matthew H. Armstrong, Armstrong Law Firm LLC, St. Louis, MO, Derrick T. Dewitt, Douglas A. Terry, Nelson, Roselius, Terry & Morton, Edmond, OK, for Plaintiff.
Ian H. Morrison, Mark A. Casciari, Barbara Holly Borowski, James Richard Beyer, Keri B. Halperin, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Chicago, IL, for Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ROBERT M. DOW, JR., District Judge.
Before the Court are Defendant's bill of costs , Defendant's motion for leave to file instanter reply brief in support of bill of costs , and Defendant's motion for attorneys' fees . For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's motion for attorneys' fees , but awards Defendant costs in the amount of $1,969.97. The Court also grants Defendant's motion for leave to file instanter reply brief in support of its bill of costs .
In its September 29, 2011 opinion, the Court granted Defendant's motion for reconsideration of the Court's August 16, 2010 order in light of the Seventh Circuit's decision in Howell v. Motorola, Inc., 633 F.3d 552 (7th Cir.2011). The Court previously had granted Defendant's motions to dismiss and for summary judgment as to
all claims except for Count IV. As to that count, the Court concluded that by virtue of the anti-alienation provision of ERISA, the release that Plaintiff executed did not bar his claim for additional benefits based on alleged violations of ERISA Section 204(h). On January 21, 2011, the Seventh Circuit in Howell held that a similar release was enforceable as to an ERISA claim for additional ERISA plan benefits. Accordingly, Defendant asked the Court to reconsider its August 16 Order in light of the Howell decision. The Court did and found that, in light of the Seventh Circuit's decision in Howell, the anti-alienation provision did not apply and thus Plaintiff's claim was barred under the terms of the release that he signed. The Court dismissed Count IV and entered final judgment in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff. After the entry of judgment in its favor, Defendant filed a Bill of Costs, seeking an award in the amount of $11,055.13. Defendant also requests attorneys' fees in the amount of $1,214,253.00. Plaintiff objects to both requests.
A. Applicable Standard
Defendant seeks costs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1920 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) and attorneys' fees pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g). Plaintiff maintains that 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1), not Rule 54(d), supplies the correct standard for analyzing the availability of both costs and fees in the ERISA context. With respect to fees, § 1132(g) clearly governs. As the Court sets forth below, in regard to costs, the answer is hazier.
Rule 54(d)(1) provides that " [u]nless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs— other than attorney's fees— should be allowed to the prevailing party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). The Seventh Circuit has stated that " ERISA includes such an express provision" ( Nichol v. Pullman Standard, Inc., 889 F.2d 115, 121 (7th Cir.1989)), as § 1132(g)(1) of the ERISA statute explicitly 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). Thus, the Seventh Circuit's statement in Nichol suggests that courts apply § 1132(g)(1), rather than Rule 54(d), in determining whether an ERISA party should be awarded costs. This distinction presumably is material because the Seventh Circuit has recognized only two situations in which the denial of costs under Rule 54(d) might be warranted (the first involves misconduct of the party seeking costs and the second involves a pragmatic exercise of discretion to deny or reduce a costs order if the losing party is indigent) ( Mother & Father v. Cassidy, 338 F.3d 704, 708 (7th Cir.2003); Rivera, 469 F.3d at 634-35)), while district courts appear to enjoy broader discretion under § 1132(g)(1). See Nichol, 889 F.2d at 121 (stating that declining " to award attorneys' fees and costs to ERISA defendants, even prevailing defendants, would rarely constitute an abuse of discretion" ) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Jackman Fin. Corp. v. Humana Ins. Co., 641 F.3d 860, 866 (7th Cir.2011) (recognizing that § 1132(g)(1) creates a presumption in favor of awarding costs and fees to the prevailing party, but characterizing that ...