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Unum Life Insurance Co. v. Martin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 1, 2014

JACK E. MARTIN, Defendant.

Robert B. Miller, Kilmer Voorhees & Laurick, PC, Portland, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff.

William C. Carpenter, Jr., Eugene, Oregon, Attorney for defendant.


ANN AIKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Unum Life Insurance Company of America moves for attorney fees and costs, in the amounts of $57, 798 and $1, 124.48, respectively, after prevailing on its breach of contract claim against defendant Jack Martin. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion is granted in part, in that attorney fees are awarded in the reduced sum of $31, 408 and costs are awarded in full.


Defendant participated in a group long-term disability ("LTD") insurance plan ("Policy"), offered through plaintiff, with his employer Benton County. Under the Policy, any Social Security disability income ("SSDI") received by a disabled employee or his family members from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") was deductible from monthly LTD benefits as an "overpayment." See Miller Decl. Ex. 4, at 21-23. In addition, while a final determination from the SSA regarding SSDI eligibility was pending, the Policy permitted plaintiff to deduct estimated SSDI amounts from a disabled employee's LTD payments.

During the course of his employment, defendant became unable to work and applied for LTD benefits. Plaintiff approved defendant's claim and he began receiving payments on June 18, 2000. Subsequently, defendant applied for and was denied SSDI. He appealed that decision.

On October 15, 2004, defendant signed a reimbursement agreement ("Contract") with plaintiff that deferred the estimated SSDI deduction, thereby allowing, defendant to receive full monthly LTD payments until - a final SSA determination was made. At that time, plaintiff agreed that he would be liable "for all reasonable costs (including attorney fees) [incurred by plaintiff in] collecting] [any] overpaid benefits." Miller Decl. Ex. 1.

Defendant was eventually awarded SSDI by letter dated September 18, 2011. On September 25, 2011, defendant provided plaintiff with a copy of the SSA's award letter, which stated that defendant would receive a check for retroactive SSDI in the amount of $122, 913.75. Plaintiff believed that defendant's children would also receive family SSDI payments, which were subject to the Policy's and Contract's overpayment requirements. Because plaintiff did not know the precise amount of SSDI benefits that were or would be paid to defendant's children, plaintiff made several requests to defendant to furnish copies of his family members' award letters. After these attempts failed, plaintiff estimated that defendant and his family received SSDI benefits in the amount of $186, 464.33. Plaintiff subsequently began recouping this overpayment amount by withholding defendant's monthly LTD payments.

On January 29, 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court against defendant for breach of contract. On August 5, 2013, defendant filed counterclaims for intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"), declaratory judgment, and breach of contract.

On August 8, 2013, the Court granted plaintiff's motion to dismiss defendant's IIED claim. On September 25, 2013, the parties tried unsuccessfully to settle their dispute via mediation. On November 5, 2013, this Court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and found that defendant owed $111, 148.73 in LTD overpayments resulting from his and his family's receipt of retroactive SSDI benefits. On March 19, 2014, after the parties filed cross-motions, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiff on defendant's remaining counterclaims.

On May 12, 2014, plaintiff filed the present motion for $58, 922.48 in attorney fees and costs based on work performed by Portland attorney Robert Miller. Defendant did not file an opposition to plaintiff's motion.


"Under Oregon law the prevailing party is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees in addition to costs and disbursements' in any action based on a contract that specifically provides for an award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party." Copeland-Turner v. Wells Faro Bank N.A., 2012 WL 92957, *1 (D.Or. Jan. 11, 2012) (quoting Or. Rev. Stat. § 20.096(1)). After establishing that the contract allows for fees and which party prevailed, an award pursuant to Or. Rev. Stat. § 20.096 "is mandatory; the trial court has no discretion to deny it, although it does have discretion as to what amount is reasonable.'" Benchmark N.W., Inc. v. Sambhi , 191 Or.App. 520, 523, 83 P.3d 348 (2004) (citation omitted); see also Gates v. Deukmejian , 987 F.2d 1392, 1400-02 (9th Cir. 1992) (court is required to ensure an award's ...

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