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Grant v. American Agencies

June 27, 2008

RAMONA GRANT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN AGENCIES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara L. Major United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES AND COSTS [Doc. No. 40]

On April 17, 2008, Plaintiff filed a motion for attorney's fees and costs incurred during the instant action. Doc. No. 40 ("Motion"). Defendant opposed this motion on April 30, 2008 ("Opp'n"). Doc. No. 41. On May 6, 2008, Plaintiff filed a reply. Doc. No. 43 ("Reply"). The Court heard arguments on the motion on June 6, 2008. For the reasons stated on the record at the hearing, and as enumerated below, Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees and costs is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART as follows.

BACKGROUND

This case concerns allegedly wrongful debt collection practices by Defendant, a debt collector. In July 2005, Plaintiff filed a complaint, alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), and California's Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("RFDCPA"). Doc. No. 1 (Complaint). Defendant's alleged wrongdoing stems from a collection letter Defendant sent to Plaintiff, implying that an attorney retained by Defendant was helping collect a disputed debt, when in fact he was not. Id. Plaintiff argued that such behavior constituted "false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in connection with the collection of an alleged debt," in violation of the FDCPA and the RFDCPA. Id. Although Plaintiff initially filed the instant case as a class action, she later decided not to pursue class certification. Motion at 5. Concurrent with the instant federal action, Defendant pursued a state court action against Plaintiff, and won a judgment on the underlying disputed debt. Id.

In September 2005, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint (Doc. No. 6), which was granted in part in August 2006 (Doc. No. 14). After conducting partial discovery, the parties executed a settlement agreement in June 2007. Doc. No. 48 (settlement agreement, filed under seal). The agreement provided, inter alia, that Defendant would pay Plaintiff's "reasonable" attorney's fees and costs. Id. If the parties could not reach a mutually acceptable "reasonable" figure, the agreement permitted Plaintiff to ask the Court to determine the amount. Id. On June 27, 2007, shortly after the parties executed the settlement agreement, they stipulated to this Court's jurisdiction over "all disputes arising out of the terms of the settlement agreement once completed." Doc. No. 39.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff requests $44,422.75 in fees incurred by attorneys Joshua Swigart and Douglas Campion, as well as $537.92 in costs. Motion. These figures include time spent litigating the federal (but not state) action, attempting to settle the federal action, and drafting the motion for fees. Id. Plaintiff also requests $5,197.50 in attorney's fees, incurred preparing a reply to Defendant's opposition to Plaintiff's original motion. Reply. In total, Plaintiff requests $50,158.17 in fees and costs.

Defendant argues that Plaintiff's motion should be denied as untimely under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, under the doctrine of laches, and under Local Rule 83.4, which prohibits "delaying tactics." Opp'n at 6-9. Defendant also argues that the fee award should be reduced because Defendant made a settlement offer to Plaintiff's attorneys, which they allegedly failed to communicate to their client. Id. at 9-13. Defendant also contends that Plaintiff's attorneys' hourly billing rates are excessive. Id. at 13-14. For the reasons stated on the record at the hearing, the Court is not persuaded by these arguments, and declines to reduce or deny the requested fee amount on these grounds.

Defendant also argues that the number of hours for which Plaintiff requests fees is excessive, and that some of Plaintiff's billing entries are not justified. Opp'n at 16-25. Defendant further argues, and Plaintiff concedes, that Plaintiff may not recover fees for efforts expended on behalf of the state court action. Id. at 14-16; Motion at 13 (Plaintiff's attorneys "excising fees and costs spent on defending the Defendant's state court action"). For the reasons provided by the Court at the hearing, the Court finds merit in these arguments as applied to certain billing entries, and reduces Plaintiff's fee award as follows.

a. Excessive or Unsubstantiated Billing:

* Plaintiff requests reimbursement for 40.9 hours of fees expended in drafting the instant motion. This represents 16.8 hours billed by attorney Joshua Swigart (Decl. Swigart*fn1 Ex. I at 9-11), .6 hours billed by paralegal Luisa Parra (id. at 11), 12.5 hours billed by law clerk Tiffany Jensen (id.), and 11 hours billed by attorney Douglas Campion (Decl. Campion Ex. E at 10-11). At each individual's billing rate,*fn2 the total requested for drafting the motion is $10,661.50. For the reasons stated on the record, the Court finds this sum unreasonable, and reduces it by one-third. Therefore, $3,553.84 (three thousand five hundred fifty-three dollars and eighty-four cents) shall be deducted from the total fee request.

* As stated at the hearing, the Court also finds Plaintiff's request for 1.5 hours of Ms. Parra's time to "create tables MSJ" on April 15, 2008 (Decl. Swigart at 11) to be excessive and inadequately supported, and therefore declines to include it in the fee award. Therefore, the fee request shall be reduced by an additional $142.50 (one hundred forty-two dollars and fifty cents).

* Also, as stated at the hearing, the Court rejects as insufficiently defined and supported Plaintiff's request for .8 hours of Ms. Parra's time on April 23, 2007 "entering data billing report." Id. at 10. The $76.00 (seventy six dollars) requested ...


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