Monday, June 19, 2017

FedEx Long Term Disability Plan Ordered to Pay Ramos Law 40K in Attorney's Fees

Individuals who have been denied LTD benefits often ask their disability lawyer whether they can obtain any punitive damages or penalties against the plan or insurance company for failing to follow the law. Unfortunately, under the law that covers most of these plans (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 “ERISA”), these damages are not available.  Given the state of the law, there are very little consequences when a disability plan acts illegally.  The payment of the benefits owed is practically the only remedy available to plaintiffs.  However, even though there are no punitive damages, the Court may force the insurance company and/or LTD plan to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees. In these instances, the imposition of attorney’s fees acts as the only penalty or punitive action that can work to deter LTD plans from violating the law. In a recent case, Ramos Law was successful in obtaining an award of attorney’s fees against the Federal Express Long Term Disability Plan. See Dwinnell v. Fed. Express Long Term Disability Plan, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57828 (D. Conn. Apr. 14, 2017)  .

In Dwinnell, the plaintiff brought a case against the benefits plan of her former employer, Federal Express Corporation, and its disability plan administrator, Aetna Life Insurance Company, after she was denied long term disability benefits. Following several years in litigation, the Court found that Aetna acted contrary to the law by failing to conduct a vocational review of the plaintiff’s claim.

In District Courts within the Second Circuit, disability plan administrators are required to conduct a two-step evaluation of disability claims. First, the plan must conduct a medical review.  Once this first level of review is completed, the plan must conduct a second assessment which involves a vocational evaluation of the claim. In Dwinnell, Aetna did not conduct a vocational review and decided the case solely based on the medical evidence. In light of the incomplete review of the claim, District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer ruled that Aetna’s review process failed to satisfy the standard set forth by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was remanded back to Aetna with an order to conduct a new review which must include a vocational assessment of the plaintiff’s claim.

After successfully arguing her position, the plaintiff in Dwinnell then filed a motion for attorney’s fees and costs. Judge Meyer granted the motion and found that Attorney Ivan Ramos’ fees of $375 per hour and Paralegal Jessica Smith’s rate of $100 per hour were reasonable. Based on the amount of time spent by Ramos Law working on this case, Judge Meyer ordered FedEx to pay Ramos Law $40,657.75 in Attorney’s fees and $400 in costs.


It must be noted that under ERISA, a plaintiff need not have total success on the merits of his or her case in order to obtain attorney’s fees.  In fact, the law states: “The court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney’s fee and costs of action to either party,” appropriate if the party seeking fees has had “some degree of success on the merits.”  Therefore, attorney’s fees can be awarded when the plaintiff gets a second opportunity to have the cases reviewed but does not get his or her benefits reinstated.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Iván Ramos Meets with Congressman Larson to Discuss Social Security Disability

As part of NOSSCR’s spring 2017 conference in Washington, DC, disability lawyer Iván Ramos met with Congressman John Larson of Connecticut’s First Congressional District to discuss legislative issues pertaining SSI and SSDI. During their meeting at Capitol Hill, Larson reiterated his strong commitment to protecting and improving our Social Security Programs. His fierce stance in support of disability beneficiaries, was evidenced by the fact that he took time to sit down and speak with Iván during one of the busiest weeks in Washington-- they met on the same day as the Comey hearings and while many important votes were taking place on the house floor!  
Currently, Congressman Larson sits on the influential House Ways and Means Committee and is the top Democrat in the Social Security Subcommittee.  He is a crucial ally in NOSSCR’s fight to protect Social Security Disability and defeat Trump’s plans to significantly reduce disability benefits.  
Iván Ramos and Congressman Larson discussed the urgency of protecting and improving the Social Security system in this critical time when the Trump administration has proposed massive cuts in benefits. In his Fiscal Year 2018 budget request, Trump proposes 72 billion dollars in Social Security cuts over the next 10 years. This proposal breaks Trump’s repeated campaign promise not to “cut Social Security”.  Some of these proposed cuts include:

  • Reducing SSDI retroactive payments to six months before the protected filing date. Currently, SSDI retroactive payments cover recipients for twelve months prior to the filing date. This will take an estimated $9.9 billion over the next ten years from people with disabilities.
  • Reducing SSDI benefits when an individual attempts to work, is laid off, and then receives unemployment benefits. This disincentives people with disabilities from trying to work.
  • Establishing a one-year probationary period for new Administrative Law Judges in Social Security, which could interfere with their abilities to make independent decisions in granting benefits.
  • Limiting SSI payments for individuals living with other SSI recipients. This would interfere with families’ choices about living arrangements, especially when persons with disabilities live with family members who can support them. It would also add complexity to the SSI program (increasing overpayments) and increase poverty.

Larson also expressed his commitment to improving the administrative funding needed to ensure that people are able to navigate the Social Security system and receive the necessary resources from the agency. Currently, the Social Security Administration lacks the appropriate technology and staffing to provide adequate services. Data provided by the Social Security Administration and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that:

“The average caller to Social Security’s national 800 number waited over 13 minutes to be answered, and it took 110 days for an initial application for disability benefits to be processed. There are now 1.1 million people waiting for Social Security Administrative Law Judge hearings, and the wait time for the hearings is over a year in 167 of the nation’s 169 hearing offices, with the average over 600 days. The consequences of such long waits can be dire: approximately 8,000 people died last year while awaiting a disability benefits hearing.”

During their meeting, Iván Ramos and Congressman Larson also discussed solutions to current and impending issues within the Social Security system. Larson is the co-author of a bill called Social Security 2100, a set of reforms to ensure that Social Security is sustainable and effective now, and is available for future generations.  The plan which is co-authored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) provides:

  • Increasing benefits
  • Protecting low income workers from retiring into poverty
  • Cutting taxes on benefits to low and middle class SSI and SSDI recipients
  • Requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rate into Social Security as everyone else by lifting the Social Security Cap
  • More information can be found on Congressman Larson’s website: https://larson.house.gov/social-security-2100

Ramos Law thanks Congressman Larson, along with the great staffers from Senator Richard Blumenthal’s and Chris Murphy’s offices who set aside to time last Thursday to talk to Iván.  


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ramos Law Will Attend NOSSCR Disability Lawyers’ Conference in DC

Twice a year, the National Organization of Social Security Claimant's Representatives (NOSSCR) hosts a conference where disability attorneys and representatives from all over the nation meet for four days of panel presentations and seminars. This spring, from June 7th to June 10th, our very own Ivan Ramos and new Ramos Law attorney Tere Ramos will be traveling to Washington, DC to build their skillsets and network with other professionals in Social Security Disability advocacy. On June 8th, Ivan and Tere will be participating in NOSSCR’s  Capitol Hill Advocacy Day, where they and other disability lawyers will meet with congresspeople to lobby for legislation benefitting SSI and SSDI programs.
Ramos Law’s Jessica Smith and Ivan Ramos have attended previous NOSSCR conferences in DC, Denver, Philadelphia, and Seattle. There, they further expanded their literacy in Social Security Disability law through intensive workshops, seminars, and meetings. They gained valuable new insights into the field of Social Security Disability advocacy and legislation, which they brought back to the office to share with our clients. We’re looking forward to the new knowledge and connections Ivan and Tere can share with us after they come back from the spring 2017 NOSSCR conference.

We feel confident knowing that Ivan and Tere can bring their first-hand experience to Capitol Hill. Ivan will be an excellent resource for our nation’s lawmakers because of his level of professional expertise combined with his years of building personal relationships with the clients he serves. Tere has worked hard for disability rights for over a decade, advocating for and with families who are commonly marginalized. Both of their unique perspectives will bring a compassionate viewpoint to the congressional debate regarding social security, and make Ramos Law an excellent resource to our nation’s lawmakers.