Jenner & Block

“Fee Awards Under ERISA – The Long and Winding Road to ‘Some Success on the Merits,’” Employee Relations Law Journal

In this article, Litigation Department Chair Craig C. Martin and Partner Amanda S. Amert examine fee awards under ERISA.  The authors explain that fee-shifting provisions are a significant factor in encouraging plaintiffs to file suit.  They discuss the recent legal landscape regarding standards for how the courts can award lawyers’ fees.  In 2010, a US Supreme Court decision found that lawyers’ fees could be awarded if a party obtains “some degree of success on the merits.”  Since then, the authors observe, district courts have often struggled to apply the “some success” standard.  They analyze a recent Ninth Circuit case that “illustrates the courts’ effort to construct a framework for applying the ‘some success’ standard.”  “The Ninth Circuit’s decision and the district court’s handling of two separate fees requests by both parties demonstrates just how lenient the ‘some success’ standard can be when applied to plaintiffs, and how that leniency can evaporate when the party seeking fees is the defendant,” they write.