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De La Riva Construction, Inc. v. Marcon Engineering, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

February 27, 2014

DE LA RIVA CONSTRUCTION, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
MARCON ENGINEERING, INC., et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

MICHAEL M. ANELLO, District Judge.

Plaintiff De La Riva Construction, Inc. moves for reconsideration of this Court's November 22, 2013 Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees. Defendants oppose the motion, and Plaintiff filed a reply. [Doc. Nos. 105, 106.] For the reasons stated herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration.

BACKGROUND

After a six-day trial of this breach of contract case, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff, and awarded a sum of $100, 890.29 in total damages. The jury also found that Defendants did not have a good faith dispute with Plaintiff at the time it withheld monies under the parties' contract. This finding entitled Plaintiff to statutory prompt payment penalties at the rate of 2% per month under California Business & Professions Code section 7108.5. Accordingly, on October 1, 2013, the Court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff in the total amount of $203, 234.51. [ See Doc. No. 91.]

Plaintiff moved for an award of attorneys' fees and costs totaling $429, 630.13. [Doc. No. 95.] In its November 22, 2013 Order, the Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees. [Doc. No. 101.] Upon considering the number of hours reasonably expended by Plaintiff's counsel, the Court reduced the hours, finding that certain work was unnecessary or excessive; that counsel impermissibly block billed; and that clerical work was not compensable. [ Id. ] In particular, the Court subtracted the number of hours billed for: a motion hearing on a matter that was taken under submission; preparing a summary judgment motion that was never filed; and billing an unreasonably high number of hours preparing and reviewing depositions. The Court also found that certain billing records were inappropriately block-billed and therefore reduced by 20% the billing records of Mr. Andrade and Mr. Wiseman, resulting in a 57-hour and 41-hour reduction, respectively. The Court also subtracted 26.55 hours in total[1] from the accounts of Mr. Justo, Ms. Essig, and Ms. Torres, finding these hours were not compensable. Finally, the Court considered the reasonable hourly rates of Plaintiff's counsel and found that, pursuant to federal law, they had failed to provide support, apart from their own affidavits, demonstrating their hourly rates were reasonable. As such, based on its knowledge of the community's prevailing rates, the Court found that a reasonable hourly fee for the work performed in this case as follows: $350 for Mr. Andrade; $200 for Mr. Wiseman; $300 for Mr. Chavez; $125 for Mr. Justo; $100 for Ms. Essig; and $85 for Ms. Torres and Ms. Rojas. After accounting for reductions and the reasonable hourly rates, as explained above, the Court applied the lodestar method and awarded Plaintiff attorneys' fees in the amount of $274, 412.50.

Plaintiff now moves for reconsideration of the Court's November 22, 2013, Order awarding attorneys' fees, contending the award amounts to a clear error and manifest injustice. [Doc. No. 104.] First, Plaintiff contends that the Court erred in determining the reasonable market rates regarding Mr. Andrade and Mr. Wiseman.[2] In particular, Plaintiff contends that California law, not federal law, applies to the attorneys' fees award in this case. Plaintiff argues that California law has a less stringent standard of proof than federal law to establish a reasonable market rate such that counsels' declarations alone are sufficient evidence. Plaintiff also claims that the Court erred in not considering the actual rate charged by Plaintiff. Second, Plaintiff argues that the Court erred in reducing the number of hours billed based on block billing, double counting its reductions, and eliminating compensation for preparation of the unfiled motion for summary judgment.

Defendants contend that Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration is untimely and should be summarily dismissed. Defendants further assert that the Ninth Circuit has held that courts may rely on their own knowledge and familiarity with the legal market in setting a reasonable hourly rate. In addition, Defendants assert that the Court did not error in reducing Plaintiff's hours for block-billing; that the Court did not double-count its reductions; and finally, that the Court's reduction for Plaintiff's unfiled summary judgment motion was proper.

LEGAL STANDARD

Civil Local Rule 7.1(i)(1) permits a party to seek reconsideration of an order. See S.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 7.1(i). Generally, courts will reconsider a decision if a party can show (1) new evidence, (2) an intervening change in the law, or (3) clear error in the court's prior decision resulting in a manifest injustice. Navajo Nation v. Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation, 331 F.3d 1041, 1046 (9th Cir. 2003). "A district court may reconsider and revise a previous interlocutory decision for any reason it deems sufficient, even in the absence of new evidence or an intervening change in or clarification of controlling law." Hydranautics v. FilmTec Corp., 306 F.Supp.2d 958, 968 (S.D. Cal. 2003). "However, a court should generally leave a previous decision undisturbed absent a showing that it either represented clear error or would work a manifest injustice." Id. (citing Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 817 (1988)). Ultimately, however, the decision on a motion for reconsideration lies in the Court's sound discretion. Navajo Nation, 331 F.3d at 1046 (citing Kona Enter. v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 883 (9th Cir. 2000)).

DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Motion is Not Time Barred

As an initial matter, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration is time-barred. Civil Local Rule 7.1.i.2 requires that a party must move for reconsideration "within twenty eight (28) days after the entry of the ruling, order or judgment sought to be reconsidered." S.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 7.1.i.2. The Court issued its previous Order on November 22, 2013, and Plaintiff initially filed this motion for reconsideration on December 20, 2013. [Doc. Nos. 101, 102.] However, because the motion lacked a hearing date as required by Civil Local Rule 5.1, the Court ordered that the document be rejected and stricken from the record. [Doc. No. 103.] Plaintiff then re-filed the motion with a hearing date on December 27, 2013. [Doc. No. 104.] Defendants claim that because Plaintiff did not file the correct motion until December 27, 2013, the motion is beyond the 28-day deadline under Local Rule 7.1.i.2, and therefore untimely.

The Ninth Circuit has recognized that local rules prescribing the form of court filings "should not be applied in a manner that defeats altogether a litigant's right to access to the court." Cintron v. Union P. R. Co., 813 F.2d 917, 920 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting Loya v. Desert Sands Unified School Dist., 721 F.2d 279 (9th Cir. 1983)). To do so would elevate the local rule to a jurisdictional requirement and "conflict with the mandate of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 1 to provide a just and speedy determination of every action." United States v. Dae Rim Fishery Co., Ltd., 794 F.2d 1392, 1395 (9th Cir. 1986). Further, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 83(a)(2) instructs that "[a] local rule imposing a requirement of form must not be enforced in a way that causes a party to lose any right because of a nonwillful failure to comply." Fed.R.Civ.P. 83(a)(2).

Here, Civil Local Rule 5.1 prescribes the form of court filings in the Southern District of California. To deny this motion as untimely simply for a failure to comply with a local rule's form requirements would conflict with Rule 83(a)(2) as well as Ninth Circuit precedent. As such, the Court ...


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