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Dublin Eye Associates, Pc v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

March 24, 2014

DUBLIN EYE ASSOCIATES, P.C., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motions for attorneys' fees. For the reasons discussed below, the motions will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

This Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment because Plaintiffs' claims were barred by the statute of limitations. Dublin Eye Associates, P. C. v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Ins. Co., 957 F.Supp.2d 843 (E. D. Ky. 2013). The extensive factual detail in that decision and in the Order denying reconsideration [DE 367] will not be repeated here, except as necessary to consider the motion for attorneys' fees.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard for Award of Attorneys' Fees

Under ERISA, courts have discretion to award reasonable attorneys' fees to either party who has "achieved some degree of success on the merits." 29 U.S.C. § § 1132(g)(1); Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U.S. 242 255 (2010). The Sixth Circuit has awarded attorneys' fees to defendants in an ERISA case. Moore v. Lafayette Life Ins. Co., 458 F.3d 416, 445 (6th Cir. 2006). The Sixth Circuit has also held that "[a] summary judgment on the basis of the defense of the statute of limitations is a judgment on the merits." Nathan v. Rowan, 6451 F.2d 1223, 1226 (6th Cir. 1981).

Once a party has established some degree of success on the merits, the request for fees may be evaluated under a five-factor test:

1. the degree of the opposing party's culpability or bad faith;
2. the opposing party's ability to satisfy an award of attorneys' 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.

Moore, 458 F.3d at 445, citing Secretary of Department of Labor v. King, 775 F.2d 555, 559 (6th Cir. 1985). "Because these five factors bear no obvious relation to § 1132(g)(1)'s text or to our fee-shifting jurisprudence, they are not required for channeling a court's discretion when awarding fees under this section." Hardt, 560 U.S. at 254-55. See also First Trust Corp. v. Bryant, 410 F.3d 842, 851 (6th Cir. 2005)("These factors are not statutory and therefore not dispositive. Rather, they are simply considerations representing a flexible approach."); Gaeth v. Hartford Life Ins. Co., 538 F.3d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 2008) ("No single factor is determinative."). Additionally, the fourth factor is not applicable when fees are being awarded to a defendant. See Moore, 458 F.3d at 446 (affirming award of fees after trial court ...


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