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Ex-NFL Player Gets $1.2 Million for Lawyers After Disability Win

July 19, 2022, 2:05 PM

A former National Football League player won $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees, plus up to $600,000 in additional fees if the case is appealed, after he successfully sued the league plan for disability benefits, a Texas federal court ruling shows.

Michael Cloud “handily” won his lawsuit, “defying the odds while facing extraordinary difficulties along the way,” Judge Karen Gren Scholer said in a Monday opinion awarding Cloud more than $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees—an “upward enhancement” of about 20% from his requested fee of just over $1 million. The increase is warranted because Cloud obtained “exceptional success” against a defendant that rarely loses in court and claims it “never settles” disability benefit lawsuits brought by former players, Scholer said.

Scholer, who sits in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, also took the unusual step of awarding Cloud “conditional” appellate attorneys’ fees. She ordered the NFL plan to pay Cloud $250,000 in fees if it unsuccessfully appeals the case to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, plus an additional $350,000 for an unsuccessful appeal with the US Supreme Court.

The NFL plan argued strongly against a conditional appellate fee award, saying in a June filing that such awards are a “Texas state law procedure” that don’t apply in federal court under Fifth Circuit precedent.

Scholer disagreed, saying conditional appellate fees are “permissible in federal district courts in this Circuit so long as the award is supported by evidence of the fees’ reasonableness.” And Cloud’s filings adequately establish the difficulty he would face in defending his victory on appeal, Scholer said.

Cloud, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants and was on the New England Patriots’ 2004 Super Bowl-winning team, says he sustained several concussions and back and neck injuries during his seven-season NFL career. Scholer held after a six-day trial that the league plan abused its discretion in denying him higher disability benefits, explaining that the plan’s “stated bases for denial were post hoc rationalizations devised by the Benefits Office staff and advisors but not discussed among the Board members.”

In June, Scholer awarded Cloud retroactive disability benefits of more than $1 million, along with increased monthly payments going forward and about $200,000 in interest.

Barlow Garsek & Simon LLP represents Cloud. Groom Law Group and Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr PC represent the league plan.

The case is Cloud v. Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan, 2022 BL 248196, N.D. Tex., No. 3:20-cv-01277, 7/18/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com