United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
ROBERT D. MORRIS, et al. Plaintiffs,
AUGUSTA-RICHMOND COUNTY, GEORGIA, Defendant.
J. RANDAL HALL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Robert Morris initiated this action in October 2014 alleging
Defendant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act
("FLSA") by not properly paying overtime
compensation to him and other firefighters. (See
Doc. 1.) In March 2015, Plaintiff amended the complaint by
removing the class allegations and adding eighty-eight
firefighters as plaintiffs. (Docs. 20, 22.) The parties
reached a settlement, and after the Court dismissed fifteen
unresponsive Plaintiffs without prejudice, the remaining
parties now seek approval of the agreement and attorneys'
fees and costs. (Docs. 39-43.)
FLSA was enacted with the purpose of protecting workers from
oppressive working hours and substandard wages.
Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight Sys.,
450 U.S. 728, 739 (1981). Because workers and employers often
experience great inequalities of bargaining power, Congress
made the FLSA's wage-and-hour limitations mandatory.
Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. Q'Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706
(1945). Making the provisions mandatory meant eliminating the
ability of workers and employers to negotiate an employment
arrangement that falls short of the FLSA's minimum
employee protections. Id.
the FLSA's provisions are not subject to bargaining,
waiver, or modification either by contract or settlement,
save for two narrow exceptional circumstances. Lynn's
Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350,
1352-53 (11th Cir. 1982). The first exception involves
actions taken by the Secretary of Labor, and, therefore, is
inapplicable to the proposed settlement in this case. See
id. at 1353.
second exception, which applies here, permits settlement when
employees bring a private action for back wages under 29
U.S.C. § 216(b). In such a case, the parties must
present the proposed settlement to the Court, and the Court
may approve the settlement ''after scrutinizing the
settlement for fairness." Id. "If a
settlement in an employee FLSA suit does reflect a reasonable
compromise over issues, such as FLSA coverage or computation
of back wages, that are actually in dispute, " then the
Court may "approve the settlement in order to promote
the policy of encouraging settlement of litigation."
Id. at 1354. When the employee is represented by
counsel in an adversarial context, there is some assurance
that "the settlement is more likely to reflect a
reasonable compromise of disputed issues than a mere waiver
of statutory rights brought about by an employer's
filed suit and are represented by counsel, which indicates
that a true conflict exists. Plaintiffs are receiving all the
wages they claim they are owed in this matter. After careful
consideration, the Court is satisfied that the parties'
settlement represents a reasonable compromise. Accordingly,
the Court GRANTS the parties' joint motion for
settlement. To the extent Plaintiffs' motion for
attorneys' fees and costs is incorporated into the
settlement, they are subject to the limitations discussed
Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs
court in [an FLSA] action shall, in addition to any judgment
awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable
attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of
the action." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). "The starting
point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the
number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation
multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Bivins v.
Wrap It Up, Inc., 548 F.3d 1348, 1350 (11th Cir. 2008)
(internal quotations omitted). The product of these two
figures is the "lodestar." Id. After
calculating the lodestar, the Court may then consider whether
it should be adjusted upward or downward. Norman v. Hous.
Auth., 836 F.2d 1292, 1302 (11th Cir. 1988); Lambert
v. Fulton Cnty., 151 F.Supp.2d 1364, 1369 (N.D.Ga.
2000). "The fee applicant bears the burden of
establishing entitlement and documenting the appropriate
hours and hourly rates." Norman, 836 F.2d at
1303. The Court should also be mindful that a request for
attorneys' fees "should not result in a second major
addition, in an FLSA settlement, "a potential conflict
can arise between counsel and their client regarding how much
of the plaintiff's total recovery should be allocated to
attorneys' fees and costs." Petrov v.
Cognoscenti Health Inst., LLC, No
6:09-CV-1918-ORL-22GJK, 2010 WL 557062, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Feb.
12, 2010). Therefore, the "simultaneous negotiation of
attorney's fees with a damages award in a FLSA settlement
should trigger increased scrutiny of the reasonableness of
the settlement." Grimes v. Se. Restaurants
Corp., No. 1:12-CV-150 WLS, 2013 WL 4647374, at *3 (M.D.
Ga. Aug. 29, 2013). However, if the parties represent
"that the plaintiff's attorneys' fee was agreed
upon separately and without regard to the amount paid to the
plaintiff, then, unless . . . there is reason to believe that
the plaintiff's recovery was adversely affected by the
amount of fees paid to his attorney, " the Court should
approve the fee settlement agreement. Bonetti v. Embarq
Mgmt. Co., 715 F.Supp.2d 1222, 1228 (M.D. Fla. 2009).
Plaintiffs are requesting an award of $37, 896.18 in
attorneys' fees and $1, 399.82 in costs. (Doc. 42)
Defendant does not oppose these amounts. Nonetheless, the
Court must independently review these awards to ensure they
Dorian Britt and John D. Hafemann represent Plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs' motion lists fees for Messrs. Britt and
Hafemann totaling $37, 896.18 based on a rate of $200.00 per
hour and a total of 189.5 hours expended pursuing this matter
over twenty months. Counsel has attached a timesheet
detailing the tasks completed, the amount of time spent on
each task, and which lawyer completed the task. (Doc. 42-3,
Ex. 1.) Furthermore, Messrs. Britt and Hafemann have each
provided the Court with a sworn affidavit detailing their
credentials and experience. (Id., Ex. B, Ex. C.)
Finally, Plaintiffs have provided the sworn affidavit of S.
Wesley Woolf, Esq., a lawyer specializing in employment
actions, who avers, based on his training, education, and
experience, that (1) Plaintiffs' counsel's time spent
on the case is typical for a case of this nature; and (2)
their hourly rate of $200.00 was "well within, if not
below, the range of reasonable and typical rates charged by
attorneys in this district handling similar cases."
(Id., Ex. D.)
careful review of the filings in this case and based on the
enumerated tasks, the time expended on each, and Mr.
Britt's and Mr. Hafemann's experience, the Court