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Drew v. Mamaroneck Capital LLC

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

July 2, 2018

JUDITH DREW, Plaintiff,
v.
MAMARONECK CAPITAL, LLC and MCCULLOUGH PAYNE HAAN & NADLER, LLC, Defendants.

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         In this Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) case, the parties have reached a settlement, and, pursuant to their joint “Amended Notice of Settlement, ” Defendants Mamaroneck Capital, LLC and McCullough Payne Haan & Nadler, LLC agreed to pay Plaintiff Judith Drew's reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Docs. 35; 36. But because the parties could not agree on attorney's fees and costs, the Plaintiff has moved for attorney's fees in the amount of $28, 930.00 and costs in the amount of $713.50.[1] Docs. 37; 41. The Defendants argue the Plaintiff is only entitled to $7, 012.50 in attorney's fees, “which is in line with similar fee awards for similar cases in the Middle District of Georgia.”[2] Doc. 39 at 24. For the following reasons, the Court concludes the Plaintiff should be awarded $19, 635.00 in fees and $713.50 in costs. Accordingly, the Defendants are ORDERED to pay the Plaintiff $20, 348.50.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 18, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this action, alleging that the Defendants violated multiple provisions of the FDCPA and that the Defendants were negligent. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 81-98. In response, the Defendants moved to dismiss for improper venue, insufficient service of process, and failure to state a claim. Doc. 7-1 at 2. The Defendants also moved to stay discovery and pretrial deadlines pending a ruling on their motion to dismiss. Doc. 8. On June 2, 2017, the Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which was nearly identical to her initial complaint with the main exception that Defendant Mamaroneck was correctly identified, for purposes of service of process, as a limited liability company based in Delaware, not New York. Compare Doc. 1 ¶¶ 8-9, with Doc. 14 ¶¶ 8-9. Subsequently, the Court denied the Defendants' motions as moot but allowed them to renew their motions, which they did.[3] Docs. 16-19.

         On September 12, 2017, the Court entered an Order granting in part and denying in part the Defendants' motion to dismiss. Doc. 25. On September 26, 2017, the Defendants filed their answer to the Plaintiff's amended complaint. Docs. 28; 29. Counsel for the Defendants then filed a motion to withdraw from the case, which the Court granted on October 13, 2017. Doc. 33. On October 16, 2017, the Court entered its scheduling and discovery order. Doc. 34.

         About three months later, the parties filed a notice of settlement and an amended notice of settlement, advising the Court that “they have agreed to settle the claims” and that they “shall reach an agreement as to Plaintiff's attorney[']s fees and expenses of litigation within thirty days of the filing of this Notice of Settlement.” Docs. 35; 36. Because the parties could not reach an agreement within that time period, the Plaintiff has moved for attorney's fees and costs. Doc. 37.

         II. DISCUSSION

         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).[4] 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)[5]; 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. 37-2; 37-3; 37-4; 37-5; 41-1; 41-2; 41-4. The Defendants do not contest the availability of attorney's fees and costs. See generally Doc. 39. Rather, the Defendants contend that the Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees is unreasonable because (1) there is no evidence that the Plaintiff's counsel's rate of $275 per hour is in line with prevailing market rates; (2) some of the tasks for which the Plaintiff's counsel billed were excessive, duplicative, administrative or otherwise unnecessary; (3) there is no recovery for unsuccessful attempts to overturn the underlying judgment and pleading errors; (4) some of the billing entries were vague or misleading “block billing” entries; and (5) the Plaintiff's counsel may not recover for fees billed after entry of the settlement agreement. See generally Id. The Court will address these arguments in turn, considering the general appropriateness of the Plaintiff's requested award and examining the reasonableness of each contested task.

         B. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         First, the Defendants argue that the Plaintiff's counsel's rate of $275 per hour is not reasonable. Doc. 39 at 4. “A reasonable hourly rate is the prevailing market rate in the relevant legal community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skills, experience, and reputation.” Norman v. Housing Authority of City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1299 (11th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). “The party seeking attorney's fees bears the burden of producing satisfactory evidence that the requested rate is in line with prevailing market rates.” Loranger v. Stierheim, 10 F.3d 776, 781 (11th Cir. 1994) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Satisfactory evidence is “more than the affidavit of the attorney performing the work.” Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Here, the Defendants contend the hourly rate should be reduced to $250 per hour because that rate “was deemed reasonable by this court for both of the same counsel, and the same relevant legal community of the Macon Division of the Middle District of Georgia, ” in another case before the Court covering approximately the same time period as this case.[6] Doc. 39 at 5. The Defendants also argue that the Plaintiff's counsel have not submitted any independent evidence to show that $275 per hour is actually reasonable.[7] Id. at 5-6. While it is true this Court as well as other courts in FDCPA cases have deemed reasonable a rate of $250 per hour, that alone is not determinative. Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299-1300 (“In evaluating comparability of the market rates being attested to, the district court may wish to consider any of the Johnson factors to the extent that they suggest that comparables offered may not be relevant to the issues before the court or as they may affect the weight to be given to the comparables being offered the court.”). Relying on a national survey as their independent evidence that $275 per hour is reasonable, the Plaintiff's counsel claim “the reasonable hourly rate for handling consumer rights claims in this Court for attorneys with four to five years of experience in consumer rights litigation is between $295.00 an hour and $325.00 an hour.” Doc. 41 at 2-3. Both of the Plaintiff's counsel have been practicing law in Georgia since November 2012, litigating a significant number of consumer cases. Doc. 37-1 at 6-7. As the Defendants acknowledge, the Plaintiff's counsel are “seasoned” attorneys. Doc. 39 at 8. The Plaintiff's counsel also note that based on their research, no plaintiff “had ever maintained a claim against a defendant in an FDCPA action based on sending a letter to an inconvenient (but valid) mailing address, ” and thus they potentially had to create new law in prosecuting this action. Doc. 41 at 3. Accordingly, the Court concludes an hourly rate of $275.00 is within the range of reasonable rates in the relevant legal market, particularly given the counsel's years of experience litigating FDCPA cases and the novelty of the Plaintiff's case.

         C. ...


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