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Court Reduces Attorney’s Fees Due to Poor Communication and Unnecessary Motion Practice

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a partial award and partial denial of attorney’s fees in a case against Unum Life Insurance Company over long term disability coverage (Ciaramitaro v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America, No. 14-1248, 2015 WL 5933503 (6th Cir. Oct. 9, 2015), affirming Ciaramitaro v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America, No. 13–CV–10268, 2014 WL 320077 (E.D.Mich. Jan. 29, 2014). The plaintiff was awarded long-term disability benefits after being injured on the job. She sued the claim administrator for the disability plan (Unum) alleging that under the plan she should also receive a life insurance benefit, but that she had received no information about this coverage. Ms. Ciaramitaro was found to be entitled to the benefit, and she sought penalties and attorney’s fees.

Upon ordering discovery, the district court found that UNUM’s counsel had orally informed Ms. Ciaramitaro’s counsel that she would be covered by the life insurance plan, confirmed this in an email and attempted to initiate a dialogue about resolving the attorney’s fee issue several days after the suit was filed. The court held that because UNUM’s counsel agreed to provide Ms. Ciaramitaro with the benefits she requested, the matter could have been resolved expeditiously through conferences rather than motion practice, which would have minimized fees. The court stated that, “half the fees requested in this case could have been avoided with better communication,” and awarded only partial fees for the work that moved the case to a resolution. The sixth circuit then upheld this award, stating that the court’s reasoning was sound and not an abuse of discretion. This ruling emphasizes that bill-churning by filing unnecessary motions is a bad business practice that shows poor legal judgment and will not be reimbursed by court order.

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