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Standard Insurance Company v. Estate of Bruce Joseph Keeler

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

August 20, 2018

STANDARD INSURANCE COMPANY, Interpleader Plaintiff,
v.
ESTATE OF BRUCE JOSEPH KEELER, BY AND THROUGH ITS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE, HUGO BOWLES; NANCY JONES; DANIEL KEELER; DOUGLAS KEELER; and DUNCAN KEELER, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JOHN V. ACOSTA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Introduction

         Plaintiff Standard Insurance Company ("Standard") filed this statutory interpleader action to resolve conflicting claims for the proceeds of a $87, 000 life insurance policy issued to Bruce Joseph Keeler ("Decedent"). Standard filed a Motion for Interpleader Deposit (ECF No. 11), seeking the court's permission to pay the proceeds of the insurance policy at issue into the court's registry. In the Supplemental Order to Deposit Funds (ECF No. 16), the Clerk of the Court was authorized to accept payment of $87, 751.07, reflecting the interest earned on the original amount.

         Standard filed a motion for Judgment in Interpleader (ECF No. 23) and the court issued an Order Granting Interpleader Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment in Interpleader (ECF No. 24) with an award of reasonable attorney fees to be determined. Currently before the court is Standard's unopposed Motion for Attorney Fees (ECF No. 29) for attorney Dallas S. DeLuca ("DeLuca"), and paralegal Heather K. Laske ("Laske"), in the amount of $8, 775.10. For the following reasons, Standard's motion should be granted.

         Background

         The Decedent was covered by the Standard group life insurance policy ("Policy") issued to the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon ("TriMet"), effective December 1, 2006. (Compl., ECF No. 1, at 3.) Under the Policy, the Decedent was provided with Basic Life Insurance benefits equal to the amount of his annual salary, rounded up to the next highest multiple of one thousand dollars. (Id.)

         The Decedent passed away in July 2017. (Id.) The named beneficiary of the Policy is Patricia Keeler who predeceased the Decedent. (Id.) There was no named contingent beneficiary. (Id.) The Policy provides, in the event that the named beneficiary and contingent beneficiaries, if any, predecease the insured, then Standard will pay the benefits of the Policy in equal shares to the highest class of surviving beneficiary in the following order: spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, and the estate. (Id. at 3-4.) The Decedent has no children, no legally married spouse, and both of his parents predeceased him. (Id. at 4.) The Policy includes a "Group Insurance Policy Endorsement" which provides that "only to the extent that the existing language [of the Policy] does not meet the minimum requirements of Oregon law" then the term "Spouse" is defined to include a domestic partner. (Id.)

         After the Decedent passed, Nancy Jones ("Jones") completed and returned to Standard a Beneficiary Affidavit for Group Insurance. (Id. at 5.) Jones claims to have been the domestic partner of the Decedent, and claims benefits under the Policy. (Id. at 4.) In March 2007, the Decedent and Jones signed and had notarized a "TRIMET Affidavit of Domestic Partnership or Common Law Marriage"and indicated on that form that they were domestic partners as defined in that document. (Id.) In November 2008, the Decedent submitted a 2009 Annual Enrollment Election form to TriMet, indicating on that form that Jones was his domestic partner. (Id.)

         The Personal Representative for the Estate, Hugo Bowles ("P.R."), claims benefits under the Policy for the Estate, and contends that Jones was not a domestic partner of the Decedent under Oregon law. (Id. at 5.) Also, three men claim to be the Decedent's half-brothers: Daniel Keeler, Douglas Keeler, and Duncan Keeler. (Id.) For the purposes of the Policy, Standard considers Daniel Keeler, Douglas Keeler, and Duncan Keeler as brothers to the Decedent. (Id.) The P.R. stated to Standard that "the status of the life insurance policy [is] a disputed claim such that no proceeds will be paid out until the rightful beneficiary is resolved." (Id. (alteration in original).) The P.R. moved for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") and a preliminary injunction against Standard to enjoin Standard from paying the Policy proceeds to anyone. (Id.) The Multnomah County Circuit Court granted the TRO, which expired on March 16, 2018, and denied the preliminary injunction. (Id. at 5-6.)

         In June 2018, this court issued an Order discharging Standard from any and all liability relating to or arising out of the Policy or the Policy proceeds, and dismissed Standard from the action, while granting an award of reasonable attorney fees in an amount to be determined. (Granting Interpleader PL's Mot. for J. in Interpleader, ECF No. 24, at 1.) Standard now moves for attorney fees in the amount of $8, 775.10. (Unopposed Mot. for Att'y Fees, ECF No. 29.)

         Legal Standard

         Courts have discretion to award attorney fees and costs to a disinterested stakeholder in an interpleader action. Abex Corp. v. Ski's Enterprises, Inc., 748 F.2d 513, 516 (9th Cir.1984). Even if there is no objection to either the hours or the rates, the court has an independent duty to review the reasonableness of a fee petition. Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1398, 1401 (9th Cir. 1992). The amount of fees and costs to be awarded in an interpleader action is committed to the sound discretion of the district court, and is limited to those fees that are incurred in filing the action and pursuing the stakeholder's discharge from liability. Schirmer Stevedoring Co. v. Seaboard Stevedoring Corp., 306 F.2d 188, 194 (9th Cir.1962).

         The Ninth Circuit has adopted the "lodestar" method for calculating attorney fees. Camacho v. Bridgeport Financial, Inc.,523 F.3d 973, 980 (9th Cir. 2008); Fischer v. SJB-P.D. Inc.,214 F.3d 1115, 1119 (9th Cir. 2000). That calculation multiplies a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably expended in the litigation. Hensley v. Eckerhart,461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air,478 U.S. 546, 564 (1986). The party requesting the fees has the burden of producing "satisfactory evidence," in addition to the affidavits of its counsel that the requested rates are in step with those "prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation." Dang v. Cross, 422 F.3d 800, 814 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Blum v. Stenson,465 U.S. 886, 895 n.ll (1984)). The best evidence of the prevailing rate in Oregon is the periodic Economic Survey conducted by the Oregon State Bar. Local Rule of Civil Procedure 54-3; Roberts v. Interstate Distrib. Co.,242 F.Supp.2d 850, 857 (D. Or. ...


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