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Broadbent v. Citigroup Long Term Disability Plan

United States District Court, D. South Dakota

March 16, 2015

LYNN R. BROADBENT, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITIGROUP LONG TERM DISABILITY PLAN, Defendant.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES

LAWRENCE L. PIERSOL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lynn Broadbent (Broadbent) moved for an award of attorney's fees and costs incurred in her action for benefits against the Citigroup Long Term Disability Plan (the Plan). Doc. 31. The Plan opposed Broadbent's motion, arguing that she is not entitled to attorney's fees and that even if she is, her request is excessive. Doc. 32. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants Broadbent's motion in part.

I. Facts

Citigroup offers employees long-term disability insurance through the Plan. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife) is the Plan's insurer and claims fiduciary and has discretionary authority to construe the terms of the Plan and make eligibility determinations. Doc. 14 at 2; Doc. 33-1 at 4. To receive long-term disability benefits under the Plan, participants must satisfy the Plan's definition of disability. Doc. 31-2 at 2.[1]

Broadbent was a treasury analyst at Citigroup until 2009 when she began experiencing serious health problems. Doc. 31-2 at 9; Doc. 14 at 1-2. In October 2009, David Hoversten, Broadbent's treating orthopedist, submitted a letter to MetLife explaining that Broadbent suffered from a "multitude of significantly disabling conditions, " including obesity, severe degenerative disk disease in her low back, fibromyalgia, and a total arthroplasty of her left hip. Doc. 31-2 at 61. Given these conditions, Dr. Hoversten "support[ed] that [Broadbent] be considered disabled for work activities in anything but the most sedentary positions." Doc. 31-2 at 61. In November 2009, Dr. David Ellerbusch, Broadbent's general practitioner, completed a form supporting Broadbent's Family and Medical Leave Act request in which he indicated that Broadbent's fibromyalgia rendered her incapable of doing her job and that this condition was permanent. Doc. 31-2 at 33-35.

Broadbent stopped working in December 2009 due to her health conditions. MetLife concluded that she was eligible for long-term disability benefits and began paying benefits effective March 2010. Doc. 31-2 at 2. Dr. Ellerbusch completed a MetLife physician questionnaire concerning Broadbent in August 2010. Doc. 31-2 at 36-37. He concluded that Broadbent could only stand, sit, and walk for one hour each day, and that she would never be capable of returning to work. Doc. 31-2 at 36-37. In February 2011, MetLife sent a letter to Suzanne Bakken, a nurse practitioner who treated Broadbent at the Sanford Pain Center, inquiring when Nurse Bakken thought Broadbent could return to work. Doc. 31-2 at 48. Nurse Bakken responded that Broadbent would not be a reliable employee even in a sedentary position and that although Broadbent was working hard to manage her pain, this was still a full-time job for her. Doc. 31-2 at 49.

On January 13, 2012, an administrative law judge concluded that Broadbent's degenerative disc disease, left total hip arthroplasty, fibromyalgia, and obesity rendered her disabled under the Social Security Act. Doc. 31-2 at 20-27. In April 2012, a medical director for MetLife conducted a review of Broadbent's records. Doc. 31-2 at 72-73. The medical director stated that Broadbent had traveled up to 1, 000 miles to attend a craft event, that Broadbent's left hip appeared to be doing well, and that there was no evidence that a medical condition restricted her ability to work. Doc. 31-2 at 73. Dr. Hoversten completed a MetLife physician questionnaire concerning Broadbent in July 2012. Doc. 31-2 at 67-69. He wrote that Broadbent could sit continuously for four hours, stand for two hours, and walk for one hour. Doc. 31-2 at 67-68. Dr. Hoversten also concluded that Broadbent could work eight hours per day. Doc. 31-2 at 68.

In early November 2012, MetLife sent Broadbent a letter explaining that it was terminating her claim for long-term disability benefits because she no longer met the Plan's definition of disability. Doc. 31-2 at 4-7. The letter discussed the July 2012 questionnaire from Dr. Hoversten and the medical director's review of Broadbent's file before concluding that Broadbent's medical records did not "substantiate the presence of a continued physical or psychiatric impairment that would prevent [Broadbent from] working." Doc. 31-2 at 5-6. Broadbent appealed MetLife's decision to terminate her benefits.

While this appeal was pending, Dr. Marc Sloan completed a physician consultant review for MetLife in late December 2012. Doc. 31-2 at 75-84. According to Dr. Sloan, Dr. Ellerbusch deferred to Dr. Hoversten concerning Broadbent's physical limitations but still believed that Broadbent's subjective symptoms rendered her incapable of working. Doc. 31-2 at 82. Dr. Sloan concluded that Broadbent's subjective pain complaints were inconsistent with her activities, including traveling to Utah, doing housework, mowing her mother's yard, and doing physical therapy. Doc. 31-2 at 82-83. He opined that the medical information supported Dr. Hoversten's conclusions in the July 2012 questionnaire that, in a given day, Broadbent could sit continuously for four hours, stand for two hours, walk for one hour, and work for eight hours. Doc. 31-2 at 83. In a January 16, 2013 addendum to his review of Broadbent's claim, Dr. Sloan reiterated that he agreed with the functional limitations set forth by Dr. Hoversten in the July 2012 questionnaire. Doc. 31-2 at 84. Based upon these limitations, Dr. Sloan believed that Broadbent was capable of working in a sedentary capacity for eight hours a day. Doc. 31-2 at 84.

On January 18, 2013, Broadbent sent a letter to MetLife explaining that her flight to Utah took quite a toll on her body and that although she used to mow her mother's yard two summers ago, she could no longer do so. Doc. 31-2 at 30. Four days later, Dr. Hoversten sent MetLife a letter stating: "Lynn Broadbent has severe back deterioration and a painful total hip on left. Since 2008 I have supported full disability for her. The workability report of 7-16-12 was only according to her fractured hand and wrist. It was never intended to retract her disability qualifications." Doc. 31-2 at 70.

On February 20, 2013, Dr. Sloan issued another addendum to his review of Broadbent's medical records. Doc. 31-2 at 85. Once again, Dr. Sloan stated that he agreed with the functional limitations outlined in Dr. Hoversten's July 2012 questionnaire. Doc. 31-2 at 85. He also opined that a ten to fifteen minute break with a change of position every two hours would allow Broadbent to sit for more than six hours during an eight hour work day. Doc. 31-2 at 85. Dr. Sloan did not mention Dr. Hoversten's recent letter stating that the July 2012 questionnaire only concerned Broadbent's hand and wrist. Doc. 31-2 at 85.

MetLife sent Broadbent a letter affirming the termination of her claim on February 25, 2013. Doc. 31-2 at 8-14. Consistent with Dr. Sloan's opinion and Dr. Hoversten's findings in the July 2012 questionnaire, MetLife concluded in the letter that Broadbent could work eight hours a day, including sitting continuously for four hours, standing for two hours, and walking for one hour. Doc. 31-2 at 13. MetLife acknowledged that Dr. Hoversten had since made clear that the July 2012 questionnaire only concerned Broadbent's wrist, but stated that "there were no additional clinical findings submitted for review." Doc. 31-2 at 12. MetLife ultimately found that Broadbent was not totally disabled under the Plan because her functional limitations did not preclude her from earning more than eighty percent of her pre-disability income as a treasury analyst. Doc. 31-2 at 13.

In July 2013, Broadbent sued the Plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Doc. 1. She claimed that she remained disabled under the Plan's definition and sought an award of long-term disability benefits. Doc. 1. The parties engaged in mediation before Magistrate Judge John Simko but could not reach a resolution. One month later, however, the parties filed a joint stipulation under which the Plan agreed to pay Broadbent past long-term disability benefits and to reinstate her under the Plan subject to its terms and conditions. Docs. 26, 27. The parties agreed that the only remaining issue in this case was whether Broadbent is entitled to attorney's fees, costs and disbursements, and interest. Docs. 26, 27. Based upon the stipulation, the Court entered an order dismissing Broadbent's ERISA claim but retaining jurisdiction to decide the attorney's fees issue. Doc. 27.

Thereafter, Broadment filed a motion seeking $31, 441. 03 in attorney's fees and costs with a multiplier of 1.5 for a total of $46, 954.40. Docs. 29, 30, 31. The Plan opposed Broadment's request, arguing that she is not entitled to attorney's fees because she failed to achieve some degree of success on the merits, that a fee award is not appropriate in this case, and that ...


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