Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The First Circuit on ERISA Attorneys' Fees

Scales_5A new blog that I just discovered, The Boston ERISA and Insurance Litigation Blog by Stephen Rosenberg, has a great write up of the recent First Circuit opinion in Janeiro v. Urological Surgery Professional Association, 05-2510 (1st Cir., Aug. 7, 2006). 

Stephen nicely sums up the case (need to follow the post linked to here to another post) and the standards for the awarding of attorneys' fees in an ERISA case:

In Janeiro, you may recall, the defendant took a beating in the case, and the plaintiff, rightfully so under ERISA, sought to recover attorneys’ fees after prevailing on his claim. The First Circuit, addressing the district court’s decision not to award fees to the prevailing plaintiff, gave a nice, concise presentation of the law at this point in time in this circuit on this issue. Emphasizing that an award of attorneys’ fees in such cases is entirely discretionary, the court discussed the standards governing this determination in this circuit. In key part, the court declared:

ERISA provides that attorneys' fees are available in the court's discretion. . . . We begin by noting that in an ERISA case, a prevailing plaintiff does not, merely by prevailing, create a presumption that he or she is entitled to a fee-shifting award.. . . [T]his court has listed five factors that ordinarily should guide the district court's analysis: (1) the degree of culpability or bad faith attributable to the losing party; (2) the depth of the losing party's pocket, i.e., his or her capacity to pay an award; (3) the extent (if at all) to which such an award would deter other persons acting under similar circumstances; (4) the benefit (if any) that the successful suit confers on plan participants or beneficiaries generally; and (5) the relative merit of the parties' positions. . . .This list is illustrative, not exhaustive[;]no single factor is dispositive; and indeed, not every factor in the list must be considered in every case.

Under this standard, the First Circuit upheld the district court's denial of attorney fees to plaintiff's counsel.



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