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Denial of Attorney's Fees in ERISA Matter Upheld

By FindLaw Staff on June 24, 2010 11:19 AM

Simonia v. Glendale Nissan/Infiniti Disability Plan, No. 09-56025, concerned plaintiff's appeal from the district court's denial of his motion for attorney's fees under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.  The court of appeals affirmed on the ground that, even assuming plaintiff achieved some degree of success on the merits, the Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court's conclusion that fees are nonetheless inappropriate after applying the Hummell factors.

As the court wrote:  "Plaintiff-Appellant Aleck Simonia appeals the district court's denial of his motion for attorney's fees under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). See 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g). We affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of his former employer's health care plan in Simonia v. Glendale Nissan/ Infiniti Disability Plan, No. 09-55569, 2010 WL 1896455 (9th Cir. May 12, 2010). We stayed consideration of his attorney's fee appeal pending the Supreme Court's disposition of Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co., ___ S. Ct. ___, No. 09-448, 2010 WL 2025127, at *3 (May 24, 2010). District courts must now determine whether an ERISA fee claimant has achieved "some degree of success on the merits" before awarding fees under § 1132(g). Id. But the Supreme Court expressly declined to foreclose the possibility that, once a court has determined that a litigant has achieved some degree of success on the merits, it may then evaluate the traditional five factors under Hummell v. S.E. Rykoff & Co., 634 F.2d 446 (9th Cir. 1980), before exercising its discretion to grant fees. See Hardt, ___ S. Ct. ___, 2010 WL 2025127, at *9 n.8."

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