United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING IN PART MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES
RE: DKT. NO. 109
William H. Orrick United States District Judge.
moves for an aware of attorney's fees against Reliance.
That motion is set for hearing on May 17, 2017. Pursuant to
Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), this matter is appropriate for
resolution without oral argument, and the May 17, 2017
hearing is VACATED. As explained below, I find that plaintiff
is entitled to fees, but not in the amount sought.
September 27, 2016, I granted plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment and denied defendant's, finding that
defendant Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company (Reliance)
erred and acted unreasonably when it denied plaintiff's
claim for long term disability benefits under the “own
occupation” limitation. Dkt. No. 77.
seeks an award of $238, 455 in attorney's fees against
Reliance. Reliance opposes. Reliance does not contest
plaintiff's entitlement to fees, but argues that
plaintiff is not entitled to fees for hours expended on
issues that were either litigated unnecessarily or on which
plaintiff was not successful, and that plaintiff's
counsel billed an unreasonable amount of hours on other
identified tasks. Reliance also argues that the hourly rate
requested by plaintiff's counsel, $675 an hour, is
ERISA, “the court in its discretion may allow a
reasonable attorney's fee and costs of action to either
party.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g). The Ninth Circuit has
held that a prevailing plan participant such as plaintiff
“should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless
special circumstances would render such an award
unjust.” Smith v. CMTA-IAM Pension Trust, 746
F.2d 587, 589 (9th Cir. 1984) (internal quotations omitted).
In the ERISA context, the test is not whether plaintiffs
prevail on all of their claims, but whether they
“succeed on any significant issue in litigation which
achieves some of the benefit [they] sought in bringing
suit.” Smith, 746 F.2d at 589 (internal
extent of a plaintiff's success is a crucial factor in
determining the proper amount of an award of attorney's
fees.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 440
(1983). To determine fees in cases of partial success, courts
consider (1) whether the plaintiff failed to prevail on
claims that were unrelated to the claims on which he
succeeded, and (2) whether the plaintiff achieved a level of
success that makes the hours reasonably expended a
satisfactory basis for making a fee award. See, e.g.,
Watson v. County of Riverside, 300 F.3d 1092, 1096 (9th
Cir. 2002). The “first step” requires determining
whether the successful and unsuccessful claims were
unrelated. Claims are unrelated if the successful and
unsuccessful claims are “distinctly different”
both legally and factually. Sorenson v. Mink, 239
F.3d 1140, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001). “Hours expended on
unrelated, unsuccessful claims should not be included in an
award of fees.” Id. at 1147.
unsuccessful and successful claims are related, under the
“second step” the court evaluates the
significance of the overall success obtained by the plaintiff
in relation to the hours reasonably expended on the
litigation. Id. (citing Hensley, 461 U.S.
at 434-35). “Where a plaintiff has obtained excellent
results, his attorney should recover a fully compensatory
fee.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435. “A
plaintiff may obtain excellent results without receiving all
the relief requested.” Sorenson, 239 F.3d at
plaintiff is entitled to fees, the plaintiff “bears the
burden of establishing entitlement to an award and
documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly
rates.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424,
437 (1983). “When it sets a fee, the district court
must first determine the presumptive lodestar figure by
multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the
litigation by the reasonable hourly rate.” Secalt
S.A. v. Wuxi Shenxi Const. Mach. Co., Ltd., 668 F.3d
677, 689 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted); Oster v.
Std. Ins. Co., 768 F.Supp.2d 1026, 1034 (N.D. Cal.2011)
(“In ERISA cases, attorneys' fees to a prevailing
plaintiff are determined by a lodestar analysis, multiplying
the number of hours reasonably expended on the matter by a
reasonable hourly rate.”).
that are not properly billed to one's client also are not
properly billed to one's adversary pursuant to statutory
authority.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434.
Accordingly, the district court should exclude from this
initial calculation hours that were not “reasonably
expended, ” including where a case is overstaffed or
where claimed hours are “excessive, redundant, or
otherwise unnecessary.” Id. In the Ninth
Circuit a “district court can impose a small reduction,
no greater than 10 percent-a ‘haircut'-based on its
exercise of discretion and without a more specific
explanation.” Moreno v. City of Sacramento,
534 F.3d 1106, 1112 (9th Cir. 2008).
objects to the requested rate of $675 an hour for
plaintiff's counsel's time (from June 2014 forward),
because in May 2015 plaintiff's counsel represented to
defendant that his normal billing rate was $650 an hour.
Declaration of Dennis J. Rhodes [Dkt. No. 112-1], Ex. 9.
Plaintiff responds that the $675/hour request was adequately
supported in his declaration and through the declarations
from other ERISA practitioners he filed in support of that
rate. Plaintiff also points out that this rate was recently
approved in two ERISA cases in this Court. See Nagy v.
Group Long Term Disability Plan For Employees of Oracle
America, Inc., Case. No. 14-cv-0038-HSG (LB) (approving
$675/hour rate); Lin v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., Case
No. 4:15-cv-02126-SBA (KAW) (N.D. Cal. Nov. 23, 2016)
(approving $675/hour rate); see also James v. AT&T W.
Disability Benefits Program, Case No. 3:12-cv-06318-WHO
(N.D. Cal Dec. 22, 2014) (approving $650/hour rate).
difference here, however, is that plaintiff's counsel
represented to Reliance what his hourly rate was and charged
them that rate, $650 an hour, in May 2015. That rate is
consistent with the rate I approved for plaintiff's
counsel in December 2014. Therefore, plaintiff's
counsel's time should be calculated at $650 an hour
through May 2015. Thereafter, his time should be calculated
at $675 an hour.