Wyatt Employment Law Report

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“Some Degree of Success”: ERISA and Awards of Attorneys’ Fees

By Daniel E. Hancock

The general American rule is simply this: every party in an action is responsible for his or her own attorneys’ fees.  But there are statutes that provide for awards of attorneys’ fees in the context of specific actions.  Of course, the language of these provisions is far from uniform, though most only allow the prevailing party to recover such costs. 

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, is not so specific.  ERISA provides that “the court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney’s fee and costs of action to either party.”  In Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co., issued May 24, 2010, the Supreme Court took up the issue of whether this statute means what it says, or whether it contains an implication that a party must prevail in order to receive such an award.  Continue reading