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Dekalb Medical Center, Inc. v. Specialties & Paper Products Union No. 527 Health and Welfare Fund

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

July 13, 2015

DEKALB MEDICAL CENTER, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
SPECIALTIES & PAPER PRODUCTS UNION NO. 527 HEALTH AND WELFARE FUND, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS W. THRASH, Jr., District Judge.

This is an ERISA action. It is before the Court on the Plaintiff DeKalb Medical Center, Inc.'s Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs [Doc. 84]. For the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiff DeKalb Medical Center, Inc.'s Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs [Doc. 84] is GRANTED with a slight reduction.

I. Background

This case arises out of medical care that the Plaintiff DeKalb Medical Center, Inc. provided to the Defendant James Lastinger. Lastinger was a participant in the Defendant Specialties & Paper Products Union No. 527 Health and Welfare Fund (the "Fund"), an employee welfare benefit plan that provides health care services to its members.

In June, July, and October of 2011, Lastinger received medical care from the Plaintiff for complications arising from acute diverticulitis. After receiving care, Lastinger assigned to the Plaintiff all health benefits that he would be entitled to from the Fund. In addition, Lastinger also agreed to "pay [the Plaintiff] the full balance that is not reimbursed by [the Fund]."[1] On July 21, 2011, the Plaintiff submitted claims to the Fund for the services provided to Lastinger in June and July of 2011. On October 9, 2011, the Plaintiff submitted claims for services provided to Lastinger in October of 2011. The total amount sought by the Plaintiff was $129, 697.06. The Fund refused to pay on the grounds that the Plaintiff committed malpractice in treating Lastinger.

The Plaintiff brought suit against the Fund and Lastinger, asserting claims under ERISA to secure payment for Lastinger's medical care. On June 9, 2014, the Plaintiff moved for summary judgment, [2] which was granted on September 29, 2014.[3] In the Order granting Summary Judgment, the Court noted that the Plaintiff was entitled to attorneys' fees under ERISA, but that it had to file a separate motion detailing the amount due. The Plaintiff now moves for attorneys' fees and litigation costs. The Plaintiff seeks $222, 573.65 in attorneys' fees and $13, 603.49 in litigation costs for a total of $236.177.14.[4]

II. Legal Standard

In a motion for attorneys' fees, the "fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement and documenting the appropriate hours and hourly rates."[5] Generally, a party must supply "the court with specific and detailed evidence from which the court can determine the reasonable hourly rate."[6] Often, "[c]ourts are often faced with inadequate fee applications or with claims for hours or fee rates which seem excessive."[7] In these circumstances, "the court may make the award on its own experience... without the need of further pleadings or an evidentiary hearing."[8] It is "perfectly proper to award attorney's fees based solely on affidavits in the record."[9]

III. Discussion

Under the ERISA, "the court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney's fee and costs of action to either party."[10] In determining the amount of attorneys' fees that a party is entitled to, the Court must first calculate "the lodestar, ' which is the number of hours (tempered by billing judgment) spent in the legal work on the case, multiplied by a reasonable market rate in the local area."[11] Then, if necessary, the Court "has the opportunity to adjust the lodestar to account for other considerations that have not yet figured in the computation, the most important being the relation of the results obtained to the work done."[12] Here, neither party seeks an adjustment to the lodestar. They only disagree on the lodestar amount, and so the Court's discussion is limited to that issue.

A. Hourly Rate

The Defendant argues that the Plaintiff's requested rates for the attorneys and staff members that worked on this case are unreasonable, and offers a list of alternative rates. The following table details each party's suggested hourly rate for each individual at issue:

Attorney/Staff Member Plaintiff's Rate Defendant's Rate S. Derek Bauer (Partner) $427.50 (2013) and $300 $445.50 (2014) Gary Marsh (Partner) $517.50 (2013) (No suggested rate) Charlotte Combre $454.50 (2013) (No suggested rate) (Partner) Darrell Solomon $355.50 (2013) and $245 (Associate) $373.50 (2014) Bryan Bates (Associate) $427.50 (2013) $300 Lorie Hutchins $337.50 (2013) and $325 (Associate) $373.50 (2014) Simon Chung $355.50 (2014) $245 (Associate) Chris Cottrell (Associate) $315 (2014) $150 Jennifer Whitton $247.50 (2013) and $315 $150 (Associate) (2014) Sarah West (Associate) $301.50 (2013) $210 Greg Fosheim $292.50 (2014) $150 (Associate) Andrea Clark (Summer $261 (2014) $125 ...


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