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W. D. Wash.- Attorneys' fees and success on the merits

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  • W. D. Wash.- Attorneys' fees and success on the merits

    In a recent case from the Western District of Washington, the court explores when awarding attorneys' fees is appropriate. The court applies the Hummell factors to the case which are as follows:

    (1) the degree of the opposing parties’ culpability or bad faith; (2) the
    ability of the opposing parties to satisfy an award of fees; (3) whether an
    award of fees against the opposing parties would deter others from acting
    under similar circumstances; (4) whether the parties requesting fees sought
    to benefit all participants and beneficiaries of an ERISA plan or to resolve a
    significant legal question regarding ERISA; and (5) the relative merits of
    the parties’ positions.

    Hummell, 634 F.2d at 453.

    After performing the analysis, the court found that factors one, three, and four weighed in favor of an award, while factors two and five were neutral. Therefore, the court granted Flaaen's motion as to an award and analyzed whether the requested fees were reasonable.

    The Court agrees with the majority of Principal’s points. For example, it seems unreasonably excessive to spend four full weeks on the final motion for judgment, spend three full weeks on the motion for partial summary judgment, or spend seventeen hours on an almost identical nine page fee petition. Moreover, Flaaen fails to explain why this case required almost 300 hours of work whereas the similar Paulson matter required less than 80 hours for the same successful result on similar alleged errors by Principal. To the extent that this matter involved litigating the standard of review, the Court finds that the reasonable additional hours would at most be twice what was requested in Paulson. It is also true that the Court requested some additional briefing in this matter increasing the reasonable number of hours expended. Recognizing that reducing hours in hindsight based on reasonableness is more of an art than a science, the Court finds that Mr. Roy’s hours should be reduced by one third, which results in 200 reasonable hours of work. This is two and a half times what was awarded in Paulson and should adequately compensate Mr. Roy while declining to award compensation for excessive or otherwise unnecessary hours. Regarding the hours requested for Mr. Class and Ms. Barber, the Court finds that Principal has failed to show that these hours are excessive or unreasonable. The requested hours are also consistent with those expended in Paulson. Therefore, the Court grants Flaaen’s request on these hours.

    The full opinion is attached below.
    Attached Files