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Gary S. Hines v. Hartford Life Insurance Company

November 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge:


I. Introduction

Now before the Court is the issue of back payments, prejudgment interest, attorney's fees and costs. On March 29, 2012, the Court granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment awarding plaintiff back payments under the long term disability plan, plus prejudgment interest, attorney's fees and costs (Doc. 58). The Court directed plaintiff to brief the issues with supporting documentation. Plaintiff did so (Doc. 59). Plaintiff maintains that as of April 30, 2012 he is entitled to back payments of $101,492.88, pre-judgment interest of $11,345.64, attorney's fees of $46,316.00 and costs of $405.00.*fn1 Defendant objects to all of plaintiff's calculations with the exception of the $405.00 in costs (Doc. 60). After reviewing the submissions and applicable law, the Court awards the following to plaintiff.

II. Analysis

Back payments

As to back payments due, Hines argues that as of April 30, 2012 he is entitled to $101,492.88 in back payments. Defendant counters that Hines incorrectly calculates his past due benefits because he improperly extends the period of time for which payments are payable. The Court rejects this argument. In awarding Hines back payments, the Court found: "an outright award of back benefits and reinstatement is proper in this case. Here, the 'status quo prior to the defective procedure was the continuation of benefits. Remedying the defective procedures requires reinstatement of benefits.' Id. At 776." (Doc. 58, p. 21). As judgment will be entered today, November 30, 2012 and employing Hines' methodology for calculating back payments, the Court determines that Hines is entitled to $118,555.03 in back payments.

Pre-Judgment Interest

Whether to award an ERISA claimant prejudgment interest is "a question of fairness, lying within the court's sound discretion, to be answered by balancing the equities." Fritcher v. Health Care Service Corp., 301 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir.2002). "Prejudgment interest must make the victim whole." First National Bank of Chicago v. Standard Bank and Trust, 172 F.3d 472, 480 (7th Cir. 1999). The Seventh Circuit recognizes using the prime rate for fixing prejudgment interest where there is not statutory interest. Fritcher, 301 F.3d at 820; Gorenstein Enters., Inc. v. Quality Care-USA, Inc., 874 F.2d 431, 436 (7th Cir. 1989). In granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, the Court found that an award of prejudgment interest is proper in this matter (Doc. 58, p. 22).

Plaintiff moves the Court to use 6.3% as the interest rate. According to plaintiff, Moody's credit rating agency assigned defendant's corporate bonds a rating of "BAA" and that since the initial denial of plaintiff's claim and during this time period the average monthly yield for "BAA" corporate bonds was 6.30025%. Plaintiff argues that this rate takes into account the risk of default by defendant along with a variety of factors that determine the riskiness of an asset including the prime rate and the rate of default. Defendant contends that the proper interest rate is the prime rate which was 3.26% from December 2008 to April 2010 and 3.25% from April 2010 to the present. Looking at the circumstances of this case, the prime rate and the case law, the Court finds that the prime rate of 3.25% is the proper rate.*fn2

Based on the Court's calculations utilizing 3.25% as the interest rate, the Court finds that plaintiff is entitled to a total of $13,058.49 in compounded prejudgment interest. Compounded interest of $166.89 on the December 2008 back payment of $1,222.88 back payment; compounded interest of $12,090.95 on the back payments of 90,520.20 from January 2009 to December 2011; and compounded interest of $800.65 on the back payments of $26,811.95 from January 2012 to November 2012.

Attorney's fees

In a beneficiary's ERISA action, "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). In the Court's Order awarding plaintiff attorney's fees, the Court found that "Hartford's position was not substantially justified and was not taken in good faith ...." (Doc. 58, p. 22). Thus, the Court needs to determine a reasonable fee. The district court must make that assessment, at least initially, based on a calculation of the "lodestar"-the hours reasonably expended multiplied by the reasonable hourly rate-and nothing else. See Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care, 664 F.3d 632, 640--43 (7th Cir. 2011). In limited circumstances, once calculated, the lodestar amount may be adjusted. See Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, ------ U.S. --------, 130 S.Ct. 1662, 1673--74, 176 L.Ed.2d 494 (2010); Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S 424, 430, 436, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983); Robinson v. City of Harvey, 489 F.3d 864, 871--72 (7th Cir. 2007).

In setting a reasonable billing rate, courts are directed to consider the attorney's regular rates as well as the rate "prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 896 n. 11, 104 S.Ct. 1541, 79 L.Ed.2d 891 (1984). Evidence of reasonableness of a proposed hourly rate must include an affidavit or declaration of the attorney performing the work and information about rates actually billed and paid in similar lawsuits. Id. at 896, 104 S.Ct. 1541. Appropriate rates can be determined through direct or opinion evidence about what local attorneys charge under similar circumstances. Id. at 896 n. 11, 104 S.Ct. 1541.

Once the lodestar figure is determined, the court may adjust the figure upward or downward as necessary to make the award of attorney's fees reasonable, while ensuring the fee award does not provide a windfall to the movant. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429, 103 S.Ct. 1933. Although courts have "broad discretion in setting the appropriate award of attorney's fees," there is a strong presumption that the lodestar amount is reasonable and should be ...

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