Guest-Marcotte v. Life Insurance Company Of North America et al
ORDER Denying 74 Motion for Attorney Fees. Signed by District Judge Thomas L. Ludington. (KWin)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
KIMBERLY J. GUEST-MARCOTTE,
Case No. 15-cv-10738
Honorable Thomas L. Ludington
Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris
COMPONENTS, Inc., et al.,
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS’ FEES
Plaintiff Kimberly J. Guest-Marcotte initiated this case by filing her two-count complaint
on February 27, 2015, alleging that Defendants violated her rights under the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) and (a)(2), in denying
her request for short term disability benefits. She further alleges that Defendants violated her
rights under Michigan’s Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (“PWDCRA”) in
subsequently terminating her employment. See Compl. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff filed an amended
complaint on April 19, 2016. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 44.
On December 1, 2016 the magistrate judge issued a report, recommending that Plaintiff’s
motion for judgment be denied and that Defendant’s motion for judgment be granted. See ECF
No. 63. The magistrate judge reasoned that Plaintiff had not demonstrated that the Plan
Administrator’s decision to deny her benefits was in error under the arbitrary and capricious
standard, particularly given the lack of objective medical evidence. The magistrate judge further
reasoned that Defendant Metaldyne’s subsequent decision to terminate Plaintiff’s employment
was not inconsistent with the plan administrator’s disability determination. The magistrate judge
therefore recommended that Plaintiff’s complaint be dismissed with prejudice. By an order
dated January 6, 2017, Plaintiff’s objections were overruled and the magistrate judge’s report
was adopted. See ECF No. 67. Judgment then entered against Plaintiff on February 2, 2017. See
ECF No. 73.
After the entry of judgment, on March 2, 2017, Defendants filed a joint motion for
attorneys’ fees pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). See ECF No. 74. That section provides that
in an ERISA action “the court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney’s fee and costs of
action to either party.” Id.
This rule serves as a slight abrogation from the presumptive
“American Rule,” under which “each litigant pays his or her own attorney’s fees, win or lose,
unless a statute or contract provides otherwise.” See Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co.,
560 U.S. 242, 253 (2010) (citing Ruckelshaus v. Sierra Club, 463 U.S. 680, 683 (1983)). To
justify an award of fees under § 1132(g)(1), a party must show “some degree of success on the
merits.” Id. at 255. “A claimant does not satisfy that requirement by achieving ‘trivial success on
the merits’ or a ‘purely procedural victor[y].’” Id. (quoting Ruckelshaus, 463 U.S. at 688).
In guiding the exercise of its discretion, a district court may consider the traditional
“King” five-factor fee-shifting test, but consideration of the factors is not required. Id. at 254-55.
Nevertheless, the King factors are as follows:
(1) the degree of the opposing party’s culpability or bad faith; (2) the opposing
party’s ability to satisfy an award of attorney’s fees; (3) the deterrent effect of an
award on other persons under similar circumstances; (4) whether the party
requesting fees sought to confer a common benefit on all participants and
beneficiaries of an ERISA plan or resolve significant legal questions regarding
ERISA; and (5) the relative merits of the parties’ positions.
See First Trust Corp. v. Bryant, 410 F.3d 842 (6th Cir. 2005).
Defendants have not demonstrated that discretionary fees are justified in this matter.
While Defendants indisputably achieved success on the merits, they have not demonstrated that
Plaintiff acted in bad faith, or that other persons should be deterred from bringing similar claims.
While Plaintiff’s claim was brought only on her own behalf, the case presented somewhat
unusual factual and legal issues regarding the interaction between benefits determinations and
employment actions. Defendants also have not demonstrated any inability to bear their own fees,
and requiring Plaintiff to bear Defendant’s costs would result in an onerous financial burden.
Defendants have not identified any other factor weighing in favor of a discretionary award of
fees. Because the balance of factors weighs against an award of fees, Defendants’ motion will be
Accordingly it is ORDERED that Defendant’s motion for Attorneys’ fees, ECF No. 74,
s/Thomas L. Ludington
THOMAS L. LUDINGTON
United States District Judge
Dated: June 2, 2017
PROOF OF SERVICE
The undersigned certifies that a copy of the foregoing order was served
upon each attorney or party of record herein by electronic means or first
class U.S. mail on June 2, 2017.
KELLY WINSLOW, Case Manager
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