United States District Court, D. Minnesota
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. MAGNUSON UNITED STATES JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for
Attorney's Fees and Costs (Docket No. 316) and
Plaintiff's Motion for Review of the Clerk's Taxation
of Costs (Docket No. 346). For the following reasons,
Defendants' Motion is granted and Plaintiffs' Motion
case arises from Defendants' alleged failure to make
contributions to three multi-employer, jointly trusteed
fringe benefit plans (the “Funds”) administered
pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of
1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.
Plaintiffs are the trustees and fiduciaries of the Funds, and
they brought this action to audit Defendants and recover
contributions that Defendants allegedly owed to the Funds.
The full factual background is set forth in the Court's
August 20, 2018, Memorandum and Order granting
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No.
311.) Defendants filed their Motion for Attorney's Fees
and Costs on September 4, 2018. (Docket No. 316.)
considering the parties' memoranda and filing an Order on
October 4, 2018, (Docket No. 343), this Court withdrew the
Order in light of Plaintiffs' Objection (Docket No. 340)
to Defendants' Bill of Costs (Docket No. 329). On October
29, 2018, the Clerk of Court entered a cost judgment awarding
Defendants $149, 220.96 in taxable costs, $517.30 less than
the amount they requested. (Docket No. 345.) On November 9,
2018, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Review of the Clerk's
Taxation of Costs. (Docket No. 346.)
claim that ERISA allows the Court, in its discretion, to
award them attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 29
U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). They request $2, 096, 063.75 in
attorney's fees and $525, 517.32 in costs, and argue that
a balance of the five factors discussed in Lawrence v.
Westerhaus demonstrates that an award of fees is
appropriate. 749 F.2d 494, 496 (8th Cir. 1984). Defendants
further argue that the Clerk's cost judgment is accurate
and Plaintiffs' objections to their stated costs are
baseless and successive.
claim that 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2) applies to this action
rather than § 1132(g)(1) and provides no statutory basis
for Defendants' attorney's fees. This subsection
applies only to plaintiffs who obtain “a judgment in
favor of the plan.” § 1132(g)(2). Plaintiffs
further argue that the Westerhaus factors show that
Defendants are not entitled to fees, and that Defendants'
bill of costs is overstated and includes several billings
that are not eligible for award.
permits the Court “in its discretion [to] allow a
reasonable attorney's fee and costs of action to either
party.” Id. § 1132(g)(1). The Court has
discretion to award costs and fees to any claimant who
“has achieved some degree of success on the
merits.” Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins.
Co., 560 U.S. 242, 245 (2010) (quotation omitted). In
deciding whether to award attorney's fees, the Court
should consider five factors: (1) “the degree of the
opposing parties' culpability or bad faith”; (2)
the opposing parties' ability to pay; (3) whether an
award of fees would “deter other persons acting under
similar circumstances”; (4) whether the fee claimant
“sought to benefit all participants and
beneficiaries” of the plan or “to resolve a
significant legal question regarding ERISA”; and (5)
“the relative merits of the parties'
positions.” Westerhaus, 749 F.2d at 496
(alteration omitted). These factors are “general
guidelines” and are “by no means exclusive or to
be mechanically applied.” Martin v. Ark. Blue Cross
& Blue Shield, 299 F.3d 966, 972 (8th Cir. 2002).
award of attorney's fees must also be reasonable. The
Eighth Circuit has approved the use of the
“lodestar” method to calculate attorney's
fees in ERISA cases. See Brown v. Aventis Pharm.,
Inc., 341 F.3d 822, 829 (8th Cir. 2003). The lodestar is
the number of hours reasonably expended times a reasonable
hourly rate for those hours. Fish v. St. Cloud State
Univ., 295 F.3d 849, 851 (8th Cir. 2002). Courts
consider several factors under the lodestar method to
determine the reasonableness of a fee, including the time and
labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the legal
questions, the skill required to perform the legal service,
customary fees, and the outcome of the action. See Hensly
v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 430 n.3 (1983).
Attorney's Fees Under ERISA
request for fees falls under § 1132(g)(1), which states:
“(1) In any action under this subchapter (other than an
action described in paragraph (2)) by a participant,
beneficiary, or fiduciary, the court in its discretion may
allow a reasonable attorney's fee and costs of action to
to Plaintiffs, § 1132(g)(2) precludes the award of fees
here. That section provides that fees shall be awarded
“[i]n any action . . . by a fiduciary for or on behalf
of a plan to enforce section 1145 of this title in which a
judgment in favor of the plan is awarded . . . .”
Because Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit under § 1145,
they claim that § 1132(g)(2) is the only authority for
the award of attorney's fees, and this section allows
that award only in favor of plan fiduciaries.
Plaintiffs' reading of ERISA's attorney's-fee
provisions is too broad. The limitations of § 1132(g)(2)
apply only when a fiduciary prevails and obtains a judgment
in favor of a plan, not to all actions under § 1145.
Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U.S.
242, 252 (2010) (“only [parties] who obtain a judgment
in favor of the plan may seek attorney's fees [under
§ 1132(g)(2)(D]”). Where, as here, a non-fiduciary
Defendant prevails in an action brought under § 1145,
the Court instead looks to § 1132(g)(1) to determine
whether an award of fees is appropriate. Because §
1132(g)(2) does not apply to this action and §