United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. WATTERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Plaintiff Theresa Sand-Smith's motion for
contempt (Doc. 55) and Defendant Liberty Life's motion to
stay pending appeal (Doc. 58). For the foregoing reasons, the
Court denies the motion for contempt and grants in part and
denies in part the motion to stay pending appeal.
December 1, 2016, Sand-Smith filed a complaint seeking
clarification of future benefits under her ERISA plan. Doc.
6. On September 20, 2017, the Court granted summary judgment
to Sand-Smith. Doc. 47. On October 23, 2017, the Court
awarded Sand-Smith attorney fees and costs. Doc. 51. The same
day, judgment was entered in favor of Sand-Smith. Doc. 52. On
November 14, 2017, Sand-Smith filed a motion for contempt on
the ground that Liberty Life refused to reinstate her
disability benefits after entry of judgment. Doc. 55. On
November 21, 2017, Liberty Life filed its notice of appeal.
Doc. 57. The same day, Liberty Life filed a motion to stay
the Court's judgment pending appeal. Doc. 58.
The Court's summary judgment order
complaint sought a narrow clarification of her long term
disability plan. Sand-Smith's disability plan contained a
provision that limited benefits to 24 months if her
disability was a mental illness. Sand-Smith argued the mental
illness provision was void because it conflicted with
Montana's mental health parity law, Montana Code
Annotated § 33-22-706. The Court granted summary
judgment to Sand-Smith, concluding the plan's mental
illness provision was void "because it conflicted] with
Montana's mental health parity law." Doc. 47 at 16.
Motion for contempt
district court has wide discretion to enforce its lawful
orders through civil contempt. In re Dual-Deck Video
Cassette Recorder Antitrust Litigation, 10 F.3d 693, 695
(9th Cir. 1993). Civil contempt consists of a party's
disobedience to a specific and definite court order by
failure to take all reasonable steps within the party's
power to comply. In re Dual-Deck, 10 F.3d at 695. A
party should not be held in contempt if its actions are based
on a good faith and reasonable interpretation of the
court's order. In re Dual-Deck, 10 F.3d at 695.
Civil contempt must be demonstrated with clear and convincing
evidence. In re Dual-Deck, 10F.3dat695.
argues Liberty Life should be held in contempt because it
refused to reinstate Sand-Smith's disability benefits
after the entry of judgment. Liberty Life responds it did not
refuse to reinstate Sand-Smith's disability benefits, but
instead believed it was entitled to a stay of the judgment
pending the outcome of an appeal, The Court does not find by
clear and convincing evidence that Liberty Life willfully
violated the judgment. Liberty Life's belief that it was
entitled to a stay, while incorrect (as discussed below), was
reasonable. Although Liberty's Life belief should have
caused it to file a motion to stay much sooner than it did,
the Court is not convinced Liberty's Life delay amounts
to a refusal to comply with the judgment. The motion for
contempt is denied.
Motion to stay
may obtain a stay pending appeal by posting a supersedeas
bond. Fed.R.Civ.P. 62(d). A bond protects the prevailing
plaintiff from the risk of a later uncollectible judgment and
compensates her for delay in the entry of the final judgment.
N.L.R.B. v. Westphal, 859 F.2d 818, 819 (9th Cir.
1988). However, a stay by bond has little practical effect
when the judgment is not for a sum certain. Hebert v.
Exxon Corp., 953 F.2d 936, 938 (5th Cir. 1992). The
circuit courts caution the right to a stay by bond should be
limited to "money judgments." Westphal,
859 F.2d at 819; Hebert, 953 F.2d at 938;
Robbins v. Pepsi-Cola, 800 F.2d 641, 643-644 (7th
Cir. 1986); Donovan v. Fall River Foundry Co., 696
F.2d 524, 526 (7th Cir. 1982); FTC v. TRW, Inc., 628
F.2d 207, 210 n. 3 (D.C. Cir. 1980). A "money
judgment" consists of two elements: (1) an
identification of the parties for and against whom judgment
is being entered, and (2) a definite and certain designation
of the amount which plaintiff is owed by defendant.
Ministry of Defense and Support for the Armed Forces of
the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Cubic Defense System,
Inc., 665 F.3d 1091, 1101 (9th Cir. 2011) (interpreting
28 U.S.C. § 1961(a)) (citing Penn Terra Ltd. v.
Dep't of Envtl Res., 733 F.2d 267, 275 (3rd
Cir. 1984)). "Money judgments" entitle the
plaintiff to collect interest if the judgment is affirmed on
appeal. Ministry of Defense, 665 F.3d at 1102
(citing 28 U.S.C. § 1961(a)).
purposes of this issue, the judgment consists of two
portions: the award of attorney fees and costs and the
summary judgment order. Sand-Smith agrees the award of
attorney fees and costs is a money judgment and concedes
Liberty Life is entitled to a stay of that award upon posting
summary judgment order, however, is not a money judgment.
First, the summary judgment order does not state, or even
refer, to any specified sum of money owed by Liberty Life to
Sand-Smith. The issue decided on summary judgment-and the
basis for the entire lawsuit-was whether Montana's ...