The opinion of the court was delivered by: Present: The Honorable David O. Carter, Judge
Julie Barrera N/A Courtroom Clerk Court Reporter
ATTORNEYS PRESENT FOR PLAINTIFF: ATTORNEYS PRESENT FOR DEFENDANT:
None Present None Present
PROCEEDINGS: (IN CHAMBERS): ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES
Before the Court is a Motion for Attorneys' Fees filed by Plaintiffs in the above-captioned case (Docket 248). The Court finds the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. Fed R. Civ. P. 78; Local R. 7-15. After considering the moving, opposing, and replying papers, the Court hereby GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees.
Accordingly, the hearing currently scheduled for August 6, 2012 at 8:30 a.m. is hereby removed from the calendar.
Plaintiffs filed the above-captioned case on April 5, 2006, alleging that the labor practices of Defendant Lojack Corporation, Inc. ("Defendant") violated both the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), (the "FLSA") and California law. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant failed to pay for "off-the-clock" work and sought lost wages, including liquidated damages and injunctive relief, as well as reasonable attorneys' fees and costs.
This case has a fairly extensive procedural history. On August 16, 2007, this Court granted Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, granting summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' federal claims (Docket 130). The Court later dismissed Plaintiffs' state law claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (Docket 139). Plaintiffs appealed the Court's summary judgment decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On May 7, 2010, the Ninth Circuit issued an order affirming the majority of the Court's grant of summary judgment but vacating the grant of summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' claim that Defendant violated the FLSA by failing to compensate technicians for time spent on personal data transmissions ("PDT") allegedly performed at the end of each work day. See Rutti v. LoJack Corp., Inc., 596 F.3d 1046, 1061 (9th Cir. 2010). The Ninth Circuit remanded the case for resolution of the PDT claim. On January 14, 2011, this Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Class Certification of their FLSA Claim (Docket 200). On the eve of the hearing on Defendant's motion for decertification, the parties entered into a confidential settlement agreement. Plaintiffs now seek reasonable attorneys' fees for their attorneys, Righetti & Glugoski, P.C. ("Counsel").
Prevailing plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys' fees under the FLSA. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (2006); Newhouse v. Robert's llimaRE Tours, Inc., 708 F.2d 436, 441 (9th Cir. 1983) (the FLSA grants prevailing plaintiffs reasonable attorneys' fees, including fees for appellate and post-remand services); Yue Zhou v. Wang's Restaurant, No. C 05-0279 PVT, 2007 WL 2298046, at *1(N.D. Cal. Aug. 8, 2007) (an award of reasonable fees is mandatory in FLSA actions). Defendant does not argue that Plaintiffs are not the prevailing party; rather, the parties' dispute centers on the amount of Plaintiffs' fee award.
Plaintiffs' fees are calculated using the "lodestar" method, which is obtained by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. See Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, __ U.S. __, 130 S.Ct. 1662, 1672 (2010) ("the lodestar figure has, as its name suggests, become the guiding light of our fee-shifting jurisprudence") (internal citations omitted). There is a "strong" presumption that the lodestar method results in a reasonable fee. Id. at1673. After calculating the lodestar, however, in rare cases it may be adjusted by any factors set forth in Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc.*fn1 that are not already subsumed by the lodestar inquiry. See Cunningham v. County of Los Angeles, 879 F.2d 481, 487 (9th Cir. 1988); Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 898-900 (1984). Subsumed factors include (1) insufficient documentation; (2) quality of representation; and (3) results obtained*fn2 , Cunningham, 879 F.2d at 487, as well as (4) novelty and complexity of the issues; (5) special skill and experience of counsel; and (6) the superior performance of counsel. Castro-Vega v. Waible, No. 07-675-ST, 2008 WL 2704457, at *2 (D. Or. July 1, 2008). See also Clark v. City of Los Angeles, 803 F.2d 987, 990-91 (9th Cir. 1986).
Plaintiffs seek a total of $1,100,000 in attorneys' fees and costs, which is the maximum available under the parties' confidential settlement agreement.*fn3 This adjusted lodestar is apparently less than one half of the $2,321,027 total lodestar and costs incurred in the case, which Plaintiffs agreed to cap at $1.1 million based on their recognition that some of the work at issue in the federal case overlaps with that of the state law claims that are proceeding separately in state court. See Motion for Attorneys' Fees, 12-13. The chart below provides a summary of the information used to calculate Plaintiffs' total lodestar amount.
Attorney Rate Hours Total Fees Matthew Righetti $750 1,352.75 $1,014,563.50 John Glugoski $650 1,703.05 $1,106,982.50 Michael Righetti $300 168 $50,400 Erin Breznikar- $300 85.10 $25,530
Winters Total Lodestar $2,197,476 Total Costs $123,552.00 Total Fees and $2,321,028 Costs
The Court will separately analyze Counsel's hours and fees to determine if any departure from the already-reduced figure of $1,100,000 is necessary.
Courts "should defer to the winning lawyer's professional judgment as to how much time he was required to spend on the case." Moreno v. City of Sacramento, 534
F.3d 1106, 1112 (9th Cir. 2008); Blackwell v. Foley, 724 F. Supp. 2d 1068, 1081 (N.D. Cal. 2010) ("An attorney's sworn testimony that, in fact, [she] took the time claimed . . . is evidence of considerable weight on the issue of the time required."). To reduce the number of hours worked, "it must appear that the time claimed is obviously and convincingly excessive under the circumstances." Blackwell, 724 F. Supp. 2d at 1081. "It must also be kept in mind that lawyers are not likely to spend unnecessary time on contingency fee cases in the hope of inflating their fees. The payoff is too uncertain, as to both the result and the amount of the fee." Moreno, 534 F.3d at 1112.
The presumption that attorneys' claimed hours are reasonable is essential because "the purposes of the [fee-shifting] statutes will not be met" unless plaintiffs' attorneys are "reasonably compensated for all their time." Id. Courts must award appropriate compensation to ensure that competent counsel will take on cases that seek to protect an important public right but may not be financially lucrative. See City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 568 (1992) ("Congress' purpose in adopting fee-shifting provisions was to strengthen the enforcement of selected federal laws by ensuring that private persons seeking to enforce those laws could retain competent counsel."). See also Parkinson v. Hyundai Motor America, 796 F. Supp. 2d 1160, 1164 (C.D. Cal. 2010) ("Without the incentive of a fee award, plaintiffs, such as the class in this case, could not afford to hire counsel to vindicate their rights.").
Plaintiffs establish the reasonableness of Counsel's hours through their moving papers and declarations. See Motion for Summary Judgment, 12-14; Righetti Decl. ¶ 1-7, 18-20. Counsel also exercised billing judgment by reducing the total lodestar amount and costs by half. See id. Importantly, Counsel has been litigating the present case for over six years, including a multitude of motions, significant discovery, and a trip to the Ninth Circuit and back. Even if Counsel recovered the entire requested adjusted lodestar figure of $1,100,000, it would amount to fees and costs of slightly over $183,000 per year, which is not a substantial sum, particularly for two partners and two associates. Additionally, because the FLSA is a remedial statute, it "must not be interpreted or applied in a narrow grudging manner." Tennessee Coal, Iron & R.R. Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123, 321 U.S. 590, 597, 64 S.Ct. 698, 88 L.Ed. 949 (1944). Plaintiffs' requested fees thus appear to be eminently reasonable.
Because Plaintiffs established the reasonableness of Counsel's hours, the burden shifts to Defendant to rebut that finding with evidence challenging the accuracy and reasonableness of the hours. See Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1397-98 (9th Cir. 1992). Defendant argues that Counsel's hours are unreasonable because: (1) the hours spent pursuing unsuccessful, unrelated claims should be deducted; (2) the remaining lodestar is not commensurate with Counsel's minimal success; (3) the ...