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Prather v. Sun Life Financial Distributors, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

April 27, 2017

LEE ANN PRATHER, Plaintiff,
v.
SUN LIFE FINANCIAL DISTRIBUTORS, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION

          RICHARD MILLS, United States District Judge

         There are two motions.

         One is for Plaintiff's attorney's fees and costs.

         The other is for prejudgment interest.

         I. ATTORNEY'S FEES AND COSTS

         This action was brought pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) seeking benefits due under the terms of an employee benefit plan. See 29 U.S.C. § 1132(A)(1)(b). Following the Mandate of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the Court entered Judgment in favor of Plaintiff Lee Ann Prather for the full amount of benefits sought.

         (A)

         Under ERISA, courts have the discretion to award “a reasonable attorney's fee and costs of action to either party.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). A party must show “some degree of success on the merits” before claiming an attorney's fee award under § 1132(g)(1). See Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U.S. 242, 245 (2010). As previously noted, the Plaintiff ultimately achieved complete success on the merits of the lawsuit. The Seventh Circuit stated “[t]hat makes it an easy case for us to exercise discretion favorably to her, ” in awarding reasonable attorney's fees and costs on appeal. See Prather v. Sun Life and Health Insurance Co., 852 F.3d 697, 2017 WL 1173697, at *1 (7th Cir. Mar. 30, 2017).

         Another test the Seventh Circuit has used in considering an award of attorney's fees and costs involves an examination of the following factors: “1) the degree of the offending parties' culpability; 2) the degree of the ability of the offending parties to satisfy an award of attorneys' fees; 3) whether or not an award of attorneys' fees against the offending parties would deter other persons acting under similar circumstances; 4) the amount of benefit conferred on members of the pension plan as a whole; and 5) the relative merits of the parties' positions.” Temme v. Bemis Co., 762 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir. 2014). In examining these factors when considering whether to award attorney's fees and costs on appeal, the Seventh Circuit noted it had no information regarding the amount of benefit conferred on members of the pension plan. See Prather, 852 F.3d 697, at *2. However, the other four factors favored the Plaintiff. Because “[t]he score is 4 to 0 in favor of the plaintiff, ” the Seventh Circuit stated that “[f]ee-shifting under ERISA is entirely appropriate” in a case like this-when the insurance company denied her claim “without medical evidence and then put her through all the hoops of litigation.” See id.

         Based on the foregoing, four of the five factors favor the Plaintiff and the other factor favors either the Defendant or is simply inapplicable. Under either standard-the Plaintiff's complete success on the merits or the five-factor test-the Plaintiff is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

         The Defendant correctly notes that this Court initially found in its favor. It contends, therefore, that its denial of the Plaintiff's claim cannot be held to be unjustified. Based on its defenses and this Court's previous findings, the Defendant alleges it is not culpable. Given that this Court is bound by the rulings of the Seventh Circuit, this Court's earlier ruling is no longer good law and cannot be used by the Defendant to justify its position. The Seventh Circuit previously stated, “Sun Life failed to make any plausible showing that the surgery on Prather's ankle, rather than the accident that necessitated the surgery, caused his death.” Prather v. Sun Life and Health Insurance Co., 843 F.3d 733, 735-36 (7th Cir. 2016). That is now the law of the case. Accordingly, the Court finds that the Plaintiff is entitled to an award of attorney's fees and costs.

         (B)

         Attached to the Plaintiff's Motion are the itemized time sheets of counsel. The Plaintiff alleges the amount of time listed was reasonably required to prosecute the district court proceeding and consult regarding the appeal and remand. The Plaintiff seeks attorney's fees in the total amount of $37, 919.50 for the services of Attorney Gregory P. Sgro, Legal Intern and Associate Attorney Benjamin M. Sgro and Attorney Ellen C. Bruce of the law firm of Sgro, Hanrahan, Durr, Rabin & Bruce, LLP, and reimbursable costs of $460.00.

         The Defendant contends that, even assuming the Plaintiff is entitled to an award of attorney's fees, the amounts requested are “clearly excessive.” “The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation ...


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