Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Sand-Smith v. Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

December 18, 2017

THERESA SAND-SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
LIBERTY LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY OF BOSTON, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN P. WATTERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before 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.

         I. Procedural history

         On 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.

         II. The Court's summary judgment order

         Sand-Smith's 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.

         III. Discussion

         A. Motion for contempt

         A 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.

         Sand-Smith 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.

         B. Motion to stay

         A party 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)).

         For 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 bond.

         The 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.