August 8, 2020

Volume X, Number 221

August 07, 2020

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August 06, 2020

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Fifth Circuit: Plaintiff Not Entitled to Attorneys’ Fees For Obtaining Remand on Appeal

The Fifth Circuit concluded that an individual plaintiff was not entitled to attorneys’ fees, even though she persuaded the Fifth Circuit to vacate and remand a summary judgment decision in favor of the Humana Health Plan, because her victory was “purely procedural.”  While ERISA section 502(g)(1) provides that a court “in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney’s fee and costs of action to either party,” the Supreme Court has made it clear that an ERISA fee claimant must show “some degree of success on the merits.”  Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U.S. 242, 255 (2010).  The Supreme Court also ruled many years ago, in a non-ERISA case, that a claimant whose only “victory” is an interlocutory ruling by a court of appeals has not received any relief on the merits.  Hewitt v. Helms, 482 U.S. 755, 760 (1987).

In the case before the Fifth Circuit, the plaintiff had spent time in an eating disorder treatment center and sought reimbursement of fees incurred from the plan.  The plan declined to provide her with coverage because it determined that her hospitalization was not “medically necessary.”  On appeal, the Fifth Circuit concluded that there were disputed issues of fact about whether the treatments were medically necessary and remanded to the district court for additional proceedings.  While the Fifth Circuit’s decision allowed the plaintiff to proceed with her claim, it did not alter the parties’ legal relationship or require that the defendant do something. Accordingly, she had not achieved some degree of success on the merits and was not entitled to a fee award.

The case is Katherine P. v. Humana Health Plan, Inc., No. 19-50276 (5th Cir. June 29, 2020).

© 2020 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume X, Number 191

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About this Author

Russell L Hirschhorn ERISA Litigation, employee benefits attorney, Proskauer
Senior Counsel

Russell Hirschhorn is a Senior Counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department, where he focuses on complex ERISA litigation and advises employers, fiduciaries and trustees on ERISA benefit and fiduciary issues. 

Russell represents employers, plan sponsors, plans, trustees, directed trustees and fiduciaries in all phases of litigation, arbitration and mediation involving employee benefits, including class action and individual claims relating to ERISA’s fiduciary duty and prohibited transaction provisions, denials of claims for benefits, severance plans, ERISA Section 510,...

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Kyle Hansen Employment lawyer Proskauer
Associate

Kyle Hansen is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the ERISA Litigation Group.

Kyle graduated summa cum laude from the University of Mississippi School of Law, earning his J.D. and two honors diplomas in the areas of Space & Aviation Law and Business Law. During law school, he won the North American Championship at the 2017 International Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition, also winning “best brief.” He went on to represent North America at the world competition and was runner-up. Kyle also served as the senior editor for the Journal of Space Lawand as an associate editor for the University of Mississippi Law Journal. He gained experience working for the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office on a variety of pension fund issues.

Prior to law school, Kyle graduated cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with degrees in Philosophy and Legal Studies.

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