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Manson v. Portfolio Recovery Associates LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

September 25, 2017




         The Plaintiff has moved for attorney's fees in this Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case in which the Plaintiff accepted the Defendant's offer of judgment of $1, 001. Docs. 8; 10. The Plaintiff requests $8, 031.24: $7, 600 in attorney's fees (30.4 hours at $250 per hour) and $431.24 in costs. Doc. 10. The Defendant argues that the Plaintiff is only entitled to $2, 845. Doc. 11 at 22. As discussed below, the Court finds that the Plaintiff's claim should be reduced by 7.1 hours, and she should be awarded $5, 825 (23.3 hours at $250 per hour) and $431.24 in reasonable costs. Accordingly, the Defendant is ORDERED to pay the Plaintiff $6, 256.24.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 21, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this action. Doc. 1. The Plaintiff claimed that the Defendant (1) “violated the FDCPA by sending letters containing false representations, misleading representations, and engaging in deceptive means in furtherance of their debt collection business, seeking to collect amounts not authorized by contract or statute, and engaging in unfair and unconscionable acts as described hereinabove;” (2) “violated the [Georgia Fair Business Practices Act] by violating the FDCPA;” and (3) “is liable for the negligence of its employees, attorneys, and agents.” Id. at ¶¶ 38, 44, 51. On June 21, the Plaintiff accepted the Defendant's offer of judgment in the amount of $1, 001 in “statutory and actual damages.” Doc. 8 at 1. The accepted offer of judgment also awarded “attorney's fees and costs . . . to be fixed by the Court in accordance with applicable law if the parties cannot agree on an amount, ” and it specified that “[t]his offer contemplates all of Plaintiff's claims asserted against Defendant.” Doc. 8-1 at ¶¶ 3-4. On June 30, the Clerk of Court entered judgment in favor of the Plaintiff and against the Defendant. Doc. 9.

         The parties were unable to agree on attorney's fees and costs, and the Plaintiff has moved the Court to award attorney's fees. The Plaintiff asserts that attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $8, 031.24 are due. Doc. 10. The Defendant counters that the Court should reduce the claimed award to $2, 845. Doc. 11.


         A. Attorney's Fees and Costs Standard

         “[T]he costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court, ” are available for prevailing plaintiffs under the FDCPA. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). “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) (citation and quotation marks omitted).[1] This number is called the “lodestar, ” and “there is a strong presumption that the lodestar is the reasonable sum the attorneys deserve.” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted). The district court should exclude “hours that were not reasonably expended, ” such as work that was “excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983). In determining whether a lodestar is reasonable, the district court should consider twelve factors enumerated in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc.: (1) the time and labor required, (2) the novelty and difficulty, (3) the skill required to perform the legal service properly, (4) the opportunity cost of the attorney's inability to work on other cases as a result of accepting this one, (5) the customary fee, (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent, (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances, (8) the amount of money at issue and the results obtained, (9) the experience and ability of the attorneys, (10) the undesirability of the case, (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client, and (12) attorney's fee awards in similar cases. 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974)[2]; overruled on other grounds by Blancher v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87 (1989); see also Blancher, 489 U.S. at 92 (“Johnson's ‘list of 12' thus provides a useful catalog of the many factors to be considered in assessing the reasonableness of an award of attorney's fees.”). Downward adjustment of the lodestar is “merited only if the prevailing party was partially successful in its efforts, ” a determination the district court makes on a case-by-case basis. Resolution Trust Corp. v. Hallmark Builders, Inc., 996 F.2d 1144, 1150 (11th Cir. 1993).

         The Plaintiff documents her counsel's work in affidavits and attached time summaries. Docs. 10-2; 10-3. The Defendant does not contest the availability of attorney's fees and costs, the timeliness of the motion, the accuracy or sufficiency of the Plaintiff's documentation, the Plaintiff's counsel's rate of $250 per hour, or many of the other Johnson factors. See generally Doc. 11. Rather, the Defendant argues that the Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs is not reasonable because (1) the short duration, simplicity of the issues, and relatively small recovery in this case make the Plaintiff's requested fee award excessive; and (2) some of the tasks and costs for which the Plaintiff's counsel billed were unnecessary or duplicative. See generally id. The Court agrees with the parties that the Plaintiff's request only raises several of the Johnson reasonableness factors. The Court considers the general appropriateness of the Plaintiff's requested award then examines each contested task in turn for reasonableness.

         B. Case Duration, Simplicity, and Outcome

         The Defendant argues that the Plaintiff should receive less than her request due to the relatively small recovery of the Plaintiff, the short duration of the case, and the simplicity of the issues presented. Doc. 11 at 5-9. But these factors, without more, do not make a claim for $8, 031.24 in attorney's fees and costs categorically “excessive.” Id. at 5.

         The Plaintiff requests attorney's fees and costs totaling $8, 031.24, while the Plaintiff's recovery was only $1, 001.[3] But the FDCPA's attorney's fees provision is designed to incentivize attorneys to pursue cases, and an inflexible consideration of the proportionality of damages to a fee award “tends to diminish the public benefit, to make the fee depend upon substantiality of monetary relief, and to reduce the inquiry to the arithmetical exercise rejected by the Supreme Court in Evans v. Jeff D., 475 U.S. [717, ] 736 [(1986)].” Cullens v. Ga. Dep't of Transp., 29 F.3d 1489, 1494 (11th Cir. 1994).

         As to the short duration of the case and the simplicity of the issue presented, the Court finds that the best way to determine the reasonableness of the Plaintiff's request is to consider the specific hours and costs claimed. See Bivins, 548 at 1350 (“When a district court finds the number of hours claimed is unreasonably high, the court has two choices: it may conduct an hour-by-hour analysis or it may reduce the requested hours with an across-the-board cut.” (citation omitted)).

         C. Pre-filing ...

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