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Viera v. Life Ins. Co. of North America

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 25, 2013

HETTY A. VIERA, as the executrix of THE ESTATE OF FREDERICK A. VIERA, and HETTY A. VIERA, individually, Plaintiff,
v.
LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Hetty Viera (“Plaintiff”) brought an action pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act, seeking payment of benefits under an accidental death and dismemberment policy (“AD & D Policy”) arising from the death of her husband, Frederick Viera (“Viera”). On October 14, 2008, Viera was involved in a fatal motorcycle accident in Grand Junction, Colorado. Defendant Life Insurance Company of America (“Defendant”) denied benefits under the AD & D Policy.

Following a bench trial, the Court granted judgment in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendant in the amount of $400, 000. Plaintiff now seeks attorney’s fees and costs in the amount of $212, 111.98, together with pre- and post-judgment interest. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s motion.[1]

II. BACKGROUND

On July 10, 2009, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant, asserting counts for breach of contract (“Count I”), intentional infliction of emotional distress (“Count II”), and bad faith (“Count III”). Compl., ECF No. 1.

On August 5, 2009, Defendant filed a notice of removal from Philadelphia County to the United States District Court, on the basis of a federal question. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. Thereafter, Defendant moved to dismiss Counts II and III of Plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 4.

On November 5, 2009, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 23. One month later, Plaintiff also filed a motion for summary judgment. Pl.’s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 26. On April 6, 2010, the Court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and denied Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, reasoning that Defendant’s denial of benefits—which was based, in part, on Defendant’s competing medical expert’s opinion—survived review under the deferential abuse of discretion standard. Viera v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., No. 09-3574, 2010 WL 1407312, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 6, 2010). At this time, the case was marked as closed. Order, Apr. 6, 2010, ECF No. 31; Judgment, Apr. 6, 2010, ECF No. 32.

On April 30, 2010, Plaintiff appealed the summary judgment order to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Pl.’s Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 33. On appeal, the Third Circuit held that the Court erroneously reviewed Defendant’s decision under the abuse-of-discretion standard and remanded the case for the Court to review de novo whether Defendant properly denied benefits. Viera v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 642 F.3d 407, 418 (3d Cir. 2011).

On remand, the Court held a bench trial and, under the new standard announced by the Third Circuit, found that Defendant had not properly denied benefits under the AD & D Policy and entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendant in the amount of $400, 000. Judgment, Aug. 3, 2012, ECF No. 70.

Plaintiff now seeks recovery of her attorney’s fees, costs, and pre- and post-judgment interest. Pls.’ Mot. for Attorney’s Fees, ECF No. 71. Defendant responded. Def.’s Resp. in Opp’n to Pl.’s Mot. for Attorney’s Fees, ECF No. 73 (hereinafter “Def.’s Resp.”). Plaintiff filed a reply brief. Pl.’s Mot. For Leave to File Reply, ECF No. 74 (hereinafter “Pl.’s Reply”). Plaintiff’s motion for attorney’s fees is now ripe for disposition.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

The Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (“ERISA”) § 502(g)(1) allows for a grant of attorney’s fees in the Court’s discretion under ...


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