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United States District Court for the Western District of Washington
December 3, 2021, Decided; December 3, 2021, Filed
CASE NO. C20-5887 BHS
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT SUN LIFE'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES
THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Sun Life Insurance Co.'s Motion for Attorneys' Fees, Dkt. 30. Plaintiff Amoroso sought long term benefits under his Sun Life ERISA long term disability insurance policy. The parties filed cross motions for judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, Dkts. 18 and 19.
The Court determined and held that Amoroso had not met his burden of demonstrating that he had satisfied the policy's "Elimination Period," and therefore granted Sun Life's motion and denied Amoroso's. Dkt. 28. It entered judgment in Sun Life's favor. Dkt. 29. Amoroso appealed, and the case is now at the Ninth Circuit. Dkt. 33.
In the meantime, Sun Life seeks almost $66,000 in attorneys' fees it incurred in successfully defending Amoroso's claim coverage under ERISA's [*2] discretionary fee-shifting provision, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1).
Sun Life argues that ERISA "unambiguously gives the District Court discretion to award fees to either party," provided that party achieved some measure of success on the merits. Dkt. 30 at 2 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g); Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U.S. 242, 255, 130 S. Ct. 2149, 176 L. Ed. 2d 998 (2010)).
It concedes that in the Ninth Circuit, the Court exercises this discretion with reference to five factors: "(1) the degree of the opposing parties' culpability or bad faith; (2) the ability of the opposing parties to satisfy an award of fees; (3) whether an award of fees against the opposing parties would deter others from acting under similar circumstances; (4) whether the party requesting fees sought to benefit all participants and beneficiaries of an ERISA plan or to resolve a significant legal question regarding ERISA; and (5) the relative merits of the parties' positions." Dkt. 30 at 2 (citing Hummell v. S.E. Rykoff & Co., 634 F.2d 446, 452-53 (9th Cir. 1980)).
Sun Life accurately asserts that it "completely prevailed on the merits" and argues that the Court can and should award reasonable fees on that basis, alone. Id. at 3-4 (citing Hardt, 560 U.S. at 255). It also argues that each of the five Hummell factors support an award of fees, and that the fees it seeks are reasonable. Id. at 4-9. It correctly points out that none of the five [*3] factors is necessarily determinative. Id. at 4.
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2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 232015 *; 2021 WL 5761634
PAUL AMOROSO, Plaintiff, v. SUN LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY OF CANADA, Defendant.
argues, attorney's fees, fee award, bad faith, insureds, culpability, factors