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Bowers v. Life Insurance Co. of North America

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 28, 2014

Mark S. Bowers, Plaintiff,
v.
Life Insurance Co. of North America, Defendant.

Denise Yegge Tataryn, Esq., Brian R. Christiansen, Esq., and KrisAnn Norby-Jahner, Esq., Hellmuth & Johnson PLLC, Edina, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

Daniel K. Ryan, Esq., and Michael T. Berger, Esq., Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Chicago, IL, and Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN D. MONTGOMERY, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the undersigned United States District Court Judge for a ruling on two matters. First, as directed by the Court, Defendant Life Insurance Company of North America ("LINA") has made a finding on the issue of Plaintiff Mark S. Bowers's life insurance policy coverage under the terms of the life insurance policy issued by LINA (the "Life Policy"). Bowers challenges the finding, and the Court now reviews the finding's appropriateness. Second, Bowers seeks to have the Court award attorney's fees from LINA under ERISA.

II. BACKGROUND

The facts underlying this dispute have been thoroughly briefed by the parties and discussed in the Court's May 14, 2014 Order [Docket No. 39] ("Order"). In short, Bowers's Life Policy waives the payment of life insurance premiums (the "WOP" benefit) if the employee qualifies as "disabled" and has been continuously employed prior to the disability. See id. LINA determined Bowers did not qualify for the WOP benefit because he had not been continuously employed prior to leaving work. See id. at 11-12. After performing a de novo review of the administrative record, the Court held Bowers had been working sufficient hours to qualify for the WOP benefit, entitling him to continued life insurance coverage under the Life Policy. See id. at 11-14.

The Court remanded two matters to LINA for further resolution. First, neither the parties' arguments nor the record definitively addressed the amount of Bowers's Annual Compensation under the Life Policy. The Life Policy defines Annual Compensation as:

An Employee's annual wage or salary as reported by the Employer for work performed for the Employer. It includes earnings received as bonuses, commissions and overtime pay, but not other extra compensation. Annual Compensation is based on the Employee's actual salary as of April 1st of each year plus the Employee's bonuses, commissions and overtime pay for the prior 12 months. Annual Compensation is updated each May 1st.

See Michael T. Berger Aff. [Docket No. 25] Ex. 1 ("Admin. Record") at 509. Under the Life Policy, the amount of basic life insurance coverage is equal to the amount of the employee's Annual Compensation. Bowers purchased supplemental coverage under the Life Policy which granted him an additional life insurance benefit equal to five times his Annual Compensation. Order at 16. Because the parties disagreed as to the amount of proper coverage, this matter was remanded to LINA for further findings. Second, the Court held LINA had improperly collected premium payments from Bowers. The Court ordered LINA to determine the amount of excess premium payments and return this amount to Bowers. Finally, in addition to these two matters, the Court allowed the parties to brief the issue of whether Bowers should receive attorney's fees under 29 U.S.C. ยง 1132(g)(1).

In its letter dated June 13, 2014, LINA states it has determined the amount of excess premium payments owed to Bowers, and Bowers does not dispute the determination. Letter, June 13, 2014 [Docket No. 40]. However, the parties dispute the amount of Annual Compensation Bowers received as defined by the Life Policy, and LINA argues Bowers should not receive any attorney's fees.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Annual Compensation Amount

Under the Life Policy, the amount of an employee's life insurance coverage is tied to his Annual Compensation. The Administrative Record in this matter showed that Bowers's salary was set at $100, 000 as of April 1, 2009. Admin. Record at 1214. Combined with a bonus of an unstated amount, Bowers's employer, C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. ("C.H. ...


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