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?
Continue Reading Kantor & Kantor Convinces Ninth Circuit That Remand Order Made Claimant Eligible for Attorney’s Fees

Peer v. Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Bos., No. 19-13974, 2021 WL 1257440, __ F.3d __ (11th Cir. Apr. 6, 2021) (Before Circuit Judges Wilson, Lagoa, and Brasher).

This week the Eleventh Circuit tackled one of the issues nearest and dearest to attorneys’ hearts: fees. Specifically, when a court awards fees under ERISA, against whom can they be awarded? The party, the attorney, or both? The Eleventh Circuit noted that this was “a question of first impression that has split the district courts within and without this circuit.”
Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Holds That Fees Can Only Be Awarded Against Parties, Not Attorneys

Good morning, ERISA Watchers!  Just moments after last week’s newsletter went out, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its 9-0 decision in Intel Corp. Inv. Policy Comm. v. Sulyma, No. 18-1116, __S.Ct.__, 2020 WL 908881 (U.S. Feb. 26, 2020), a case involving allegations of imprudent investment of retirement plan assets.  The court held that to meet the “actual knowledge” requirement to trigger ERISA’s three-year limitations period, a plaintiff must have become aware of the information; actual knowledge does not exist where a plaintiff receives disclosures with the information but does not read them or cannot recall reading them.  The decision comes as no surprise where at the oral argument Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (my Shero) stated, “I must say, I don’t read all the mailings that I get about my investments.”  The decision makes perfect sense.  I mean, it’s 4 a.m., do you know what your investments are up to?
Continue Reading District Court Reduces Class Counsel Common Fund Fee Award Due to Attorney Misconduct