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Kathy Dine v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

December 9, 2011

KATHY DINE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, THE BOEING EXTENDED DISABILITY BENEFITS PLAN, THE BOEING MEDICAL PLAN, THE BOEING LIFE INSURANCE PLAN, AND THE BOEING PENSION/RETIREMENT PLAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Ronald S.W. Lew Senior, U.S. District Court Judge

ORDER Re: Ninth Circuit Mandate [103] and Plaintiff's Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees [104]

On December 5, 2011, the Court took the Filing and Spreading of the Ninth Circuit Mandate [103] and Plaintiff Kathy Dine's ("Plaintiff") Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees [104] under submission. The Court, having reviewed all papers submitted pertaining to this Motion and having considered all arguments presented to the Court, NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS:

The Court hereby files and spreads the Mandate of the Ninth Circuit [103]; accordingly, the Court enters judgment in favor of Plaintiff and orders the reinstatement of Plaintiff's long-term disability benefits. As such, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees [104].

I. Background

On May 20, 2005, Plaintiff filed an ERISA claim against Defendants Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, The Boeing Extended Disability Benefits Plan, The Boeing Medical Plan, The Boeing Life Insurance Plan, and The Boeing Pension/Retirement Plan ("Defendants"), challenging their determination that she was not entitled to long-term disability benefits [1]. On October 27, 2009, this Court ruled in favor of Defendants, and Plaintiff appealed [81]-[82]. On September 30, 2011, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded this Court's ruling, instructing the Court to enter judgment in favor of Plaintiff and to order the reinstatement of Plaintiff's long-term disability benefits [103]. On October 11, 2011, Plaintiff filed this present Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g) [105].

II. Legal Standard

The decision to award attorneys' fees in an ERISA action lies within the sound discretion of the district court. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g). That decision, however, should be made with the policies of ERISA in mind. Smith v. CMTA-IAM Pension Trust, 746 F.2d 587, 589 (9th Cir. 1984). ERISA was enacted to protect the interests of employees and their beneficiaries in employee benefit plans; the Act provides for costs and attorney fees as an enforcement mechanism to encourage plan participants and beneficiaries to bring actions when benefits are improperly denied. Id.; see 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g). In order to advance those policies, courts have held that a plan participant or beneficiary who prevails in an action for benefits should ordinarily recover attorney fees absent special circumstances. See Smith, 746 F.2d at 589.

In addition, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g) requires an award of attorneys' fees to be reasonable. The amount of the award and fees rests in the sound discretion of the court. See Devoll v. Burdick Painting Inc., 35 F.3d 408, 414 (9th Cir. 1994). Reasonable attorneys' fees are calculated using the "lodestar" method, which requires multiplying the number of hours "reasonably expended" on the litigation times a "reasonable" hourly rate. D'Emanuele v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 904 F.2d 1379, 1383 (9th Cir. 1990); see Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 n.7 (1983) (holding lodestar method is applicable to all cases in which Congress authorizes fees to prevailing party).

In determining the appropriate hourly rate to be included in a lodestar calculation, the district court must look to the rate prevailing in the community for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation. Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210 (9th Cir. 1986). "The fee applicant has the burden of producing satisfactory evidence . . . that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services of lawyers of reasonable comparable skill and reputation." Jordan v. Multnomah County, 815 F.2d 1258, 1262-63 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886 (1984)).

III. Evidentiary Objection

The Court SUSTAINS Defendants' objection to Exhibit B of the Kantor Declaration because it is inadmissible hearsay.

IV. Analysis

The Court finds that an award of reasonable attorneys' fees is appropriate because Plaintiff prevailed in her ERISA suit. See Smith, 746 F.2d at 589 (holding that a prevailing plan ...


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