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HARDT v. RELIANCE STANDARD LIFE INS.

Docket No.: 09-448
Certiorari Granted: February 25, 2010
Argued: April 26, 2010
Decided: May 24, 2010

Topics:

Clean Air Act, ERISA, abuse of discretion, fiduciary obligations, patent, prevailing party status, sovereign immunity

PartyNames: Bridget Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company
Petitioner: Bridget Hardt
Respondent: Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company

Court Below: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Citation: 336 Fed.Appx. 332

Bridget Hardt
v.
Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company
Background:

:flOmega Section 502(g)(1) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) provides: "In any action under this subchapter . . . by a participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary, the court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney's fee and costs of the action to either party." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). flOmega The Fourth Circuit in the decision below held that "only a prevailing party is entitled to consideration for attorneys' fees in an ERISA action," while the Second, Fifth and Eleventh Circuits have declined to read a "prevailing party" requirement into § 502 (g)(1) and other circuits have issued conflicting authority. The Fourth Circuit also held that the "prevailing party" standard was not met and vacated an award of attorneys' fees to petitioner, even where the district court found "compelling evidence that [petitioner] is totally disabled," ruled that petitioner "did not get the kind of review to which she was entitled under applicable law" and remanded for a redetermination of benefits with an instruction that respondents "act on [petitioner's] application by adequately considering all the evidence discussed within this Opinion within thirty (30) days of its date of issuance" or "judgment will be issued in favor of [petitioner]" and petitioner obtained the requested long-term disability benefits upon remand. flOmega

Question Presented:

flOmega 1.Psi Whether the Fourth Circuit erred in holding that ERISA § 502(g)(1) provides a district court discretion to award reasonable attorney's fees only to a prevailing party? flOmega 2.Psi Whether a party is entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to § 502(g)(1) when she persuades a district court that a violation of ERISA has occurred, successfully secures a judicially-ordered remand requiring a redetermination of entitlement to benefits and subsequently receives the benefits sought on remand?

Question:

1) Did the Fourth Circuit err in holding that ERISA Section 502(g)(1) provides a district court discretion to award reasonable attorneys' fees only to a prevailing party? 2) Is a party entitled to attorneys' fees pursuant to Section 502(g)(1) when the party persuades a district court that an ERISA violation has occurred, successfully secures a judicially ordered remand requiring redetermination of entitlement benefits, and receives the benefits sought on remand?

Note:

EXPEDITED BRIEFING SCHEDULE

HARDT v. RELIANCE STANDARD LIFE INS.
ORAL ARGUMENT

April 26, 2010

Holding: reversed and remanded
Vote: 9-0
Opinion By: Justice Clarence Thomas
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