Woolsey v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., No. 20-16885, __ Fed. Appx. __, 2022 WL 1598964 (9th Cir. May 20, 2022) (Before Circuit Judges Hawkins, Paez, and Watford).
In 2010, in Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., the Supreme Court ruled that ERISA claimants need not be “prevailing parties” in order to be eligible for an award of attorney’s fees. Instead, they only need to obtain “some success on the merits.” What does that mean? The Court explained that a claimant must achieve more than “trivial success” or a “purely procedural victory,” and that a trial court should not conduct a “lengthy inquiry into the question whether a particular party’s success was ‘substantial’ or occurred on a ‘central issue.’”
As you might imagine, this answer only raised more questions. The lower courts have been wrestling with the issue of how much success is “some success on the merits” ever since Hardt. One recurring scenario is when a trial court finds that the claims process was somehow defective and remands the case back to the claim administrator for further action. Is that sufficient “success on the merits” to qualify the claimant for a fee award?
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