In Criss v. Union Security Ins.Co., 2014 WL 2707774, 2014 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 79300 (N.D.Ala. June 11, 2014), Judge William Acker, Jr. challenged the current methodology utilized by courts in adjudicating benefit disputes brought under ERISA. The court based its premise on the universally recognized legal maxim, nemo judex in causa sua; i.e., "No man should be the judge in his own case." (citing Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke in Dr. Bonham's Case, 8 Co. Rep. 107a, 77 Eng. Rep. 638 (C.P. 1610)). In derogation of that principle, the court noted that "clearly conflicted ERISA plan administrators and insurers, when granted by the plan document that they drafted full discretion to interpret their plans and to decide the ultimate issue of entitlement, are routinely allowed, even required, to rule on their own cases."
Attorney fee awards available under ERISA are a means of providing an incentive to counsel to agree to represent benefit claimants, while at the same time, fee awards create a deterrent against unjustified denials by benefit plan administrators. In Fontaine v. Metro.Life Ins.Co., 2014 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 75012, 2014 WL 2511091 (N.D.Ill. June 3, 2014)(copy available at http://www.debofsky.com/What-s-New.shtml), DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari convinced a federal judge to reconsider her prior denial of fees in a case involving disability insurance benefits. Although an earlier ruling found the plaintiff was entitled judgment (2014 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 41253, 2014 WL 1258353 (N.D.Ill. March 27, 2014), the court had previously denied an award of fees, finding the defendant's position was "substantially justified." On reconsideration, the court acknowledged that it had originaly applied the wrong standard and determined that the plaintiff was indeed entitled to fees.