Legal Summary: Cooper v. Life Insurance Company of North America

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee (2008)

After arguing the substantive issues of this case in the Sixth Circuit, the Court of Appeals remanded the claim to the district court to award retroactive benefits and other relief as appropriate.   Magistrate Judge Carter had filed a report and recommendation with the district court. Id.  The District Court accepted and adopting that report awarding us $42,815.00 in attorney’s fees and $250.00 as reimbursement for the client’s original court-filing fee. Id.

The District Court discussed when attorney’s fees are appropriate and the method for calculating the amount.  First, attorney’s fees are appropriate when the requesting party provides documentation, which proves he or she is entitled the requested amount. Id. (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Reed v. Rhodes, 179 F.3d 453, 472 (6th Cir. 1999)).   The district court generally has discretion to award attorney’s fees. Id.

Second, under the federal fee-shifting statutes, successful parties can claim attorney’s fees using the “lodestar” method to calculate the appropriate amount of fees. Id. at *2 (citing Web v. Board of Educ. Of Dyer County, Tenn, 471 U.S. 234, 242 (1985); Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433; Adcock-Ladd v. Secretary of the Treasurer, 227 F.3d 343, 349 (6th Cir. 2000); Reed, 179 F.3d at 471).  The “lodestar” method multiplies the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. Id.  The appropriate hourly rate should be the prevailing market rate in the legal community within the court’s territorial jurisdiction for the same type of case. Id. at *2 (citing Adcock-Ladd, 227 F.3d at 350).  To determine whether the hours expended are reasonable, courts should consider the difficulty of the legal issues in the case, the skill required to properly provide legal services, and the experience and ability of the attorneys. Id. (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 430 n. 3).  Additionally, and most importantly, courts should consider the degree of success obtained by the fee-requesting party. Id. (quoting Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 114 (1992)(citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436); Cramblit v. Fiske, 33 F.3d 633, 635 (6th Cir. 1994).

The district court found that we had set forth in detail the hours spent working on this claim by attorneys and paralegals and that the hours and rates were reasonable in light of the work done and the experience and expertise of the attorneys. Id. at *3.


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