Donachie v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., et al., No. 12-2996 (2d Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
In 2004, plaintiff appealed the denial of his long term disability (LTD) benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. Liberty moved for summary judgment. In a 2009 Report and Recommendation (R&R), the magistrate judge recommended denying Liberty's motion and granting summary judgment sua sponte to plaintiff. In 2012, the district court adopted the R&R and entered summary judgment for plaintiff, but denied his request for attorneys' fees. The court concluded that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's claim for LTD benefits because Liberty's denial of LTD benefits was arbitrary and capricious where Liberty ignored substantial evidence from plaintiff's treating physician that he was incapable of performing his current occupation, while failing to offer any reliable evidence to the contrary; the court retained discretion to consider the Chambless v. Masters, Mates & Pilots Pension Plan factors, in determining whether to grant an eligible plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees, but must do so in a manner consistent with the court's case law, and could not selectively consider some factors while ignoring others; the district court misapplied the Chambliss framework, and therefore erred, in denying fees to a prevailing plaintiff primarily on the conclusion that Liberty had not acted in bad faith; and the record revealed no particular justification for denying plaintiff's attorneys' fees, and awarding fees in the circumstances presented here furthered the policy interest in vindicating the rights secured by ERISA. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings.