Judge William Conley has ordered defendants CUNA Mutual Insurance Society and CUNA Mutual Long Term Disability Plan to pay over $54,000 in attorney’s fees and costs to Hawks Quindel in connection with Hawks Quindel’s representation of plaintiff Jon Clark in his case for long-term disability (LTD) benefits. Clark v. CUNA Mutual Long Term Disability Plan et. al, No. 14-cv-412-wmc (W.D. Wis. Dec. 23, 2016).
The decision comes after Judge Conley’s March 2016 order overturning the defendant’s decision to cut off Clark’s LTD benefits. Despite that order, the defendants argued that Clark was not entitled to an award of attorney’s fees because Judge Conley sent the case back to the insurance plan administrator to determine if Clark was eligible for continued LTD benefits rather than directly reinstate them.
In response, the attorneys at Hawks Quindel successfully argued that Clark met the standard for an award of attorney’s fees. Namely, Clark showed that he had “some degree of success on the merits,” given that the court (1) found the defendants arbitrarily and capriciously terminated his benefits and (2) remanded for further review by the plan administrator. Further, Clark showed that the defendants were not “substantially justified” in deciding to cut off his benefits because they ignored his extensive history of medical treatment and his doctors’ conclusions while inexplicably favoring their own medical consultants’ unsubstantiated opinions.
The Court’s fee award represents a major victory for long-term disability claimants whose cases require significant attorney time and investment. The award confirms that defendants must cover plaintiff’s attorney’s fees when they make benefits decisions that courts overturn as arbitrary and capricious—they are not off the hook when the court remands to the plan administrator to determine future eligibility for benefits. The decision will provide additional helpful law to other claimants whose benefits are wrongfully denied.
Attorneys William Parsons, Danielle Schroder, and Katelynn Williams represented the plaintiff.