Despite Remand to Carrier, Court Awards Attorney's Fees

Hoskins v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44008 (D. Ariz. June 3, 2008)

The plaintiff, Kathleen Hoskins, filed suit under ERISA against MetLife.  She contended that MetLife had wrongly denied her benefits and withheld certain documents.  The federal district court in Arizona denied MetLife's summary judgment motion on the merits, remanded the claim back to MetLife for further review, and assessed statutory penalties against MetLife's for its failure to provide the documents.

Hoskins then sought an award of attorney's fees and costs under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1).  MetLife objected, arguing that Hoskins was not entitled to that relief because she had not established her entitlement to benefits.  The court disagreed, finding in part as follows:

ERISA plaintiffs "should be entitled to a reasonable attorney's fee if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit."  Smith v. CMTA-IAM Pension Trust, 746 F.2d 587, 589 (9th Cir. 1984).  Plaintiff brought this action to reopen her long-term disability claim and for statutory penalties. She succeeded on both counts.  We concluded that MetLife erred in terminating her claim before she was provided plan documents and remanded for redetermination, and we assessed statutory penalties against Travelers for withholding those documents in violation of ERISA.

As a result, the court went on to analyze the particulars of Hoskins's fee request.  In the end, the court awarded fees of $10,000 and allowed Hoskins extra time to file a petition for costs. 

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