United States District Court, N.D. California
MERVYN L. DE AMARAL, et al., Plaintiffs,
GOLDSMITH & HULL, et al., Defendants.
ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES Re: Dkt. No. 86
WILLIAM H. ORRICK, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Mervyn and Jody Lin De Amaral prevailed in this action against defendants Goldsmith & Hull, P.C. and Eric Mintz alleging that they violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. ("FDCPA") and California's Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, CAL. CIV. CODE § 1788 et seq. ("RFDCPA"). This matter is presently before me on the De Amarals's motion for attorneys' fees and costs. Dkt. No. 86.
I find the motion suitable for disposition without oral argument and VACATE the April 2, 2014 hearing. Civ. L.R. 7-1(b); Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). Having considered the parties' submissions and the relevant law, I GRANT in part and DENY in part the De Amarals's motion.
This case arises from a debt collection action filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Contra Costa, against plaintiffs Mervyn L. De Amaral and Jody Lin De Amaral. Plaintiffs failed to make payments on a Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., ("Wells Fargo") credit card account. On August 26, 2010, LHR, Inc. ("LHR"), a debt buyer, purchased the account from Wells Fargo. On July 12, 2011, LHR filed a complaint against the De Amarals in Contra Costa Superior Court, attempting to recover $11, 373.92 (the "state court complaint"). The state court complaint identified LHR as "Plaintiff" but made no mention of Wells Fargo, the original creditor, nor to any specific credit account. It also identified LHR as an entity who "provided" credit to the De Amarals pursuant to a "written agreement." This was false because the De Amarals and LHR had no direct relationship. LHR did not identify itself as an assignee of the debt anywhere in the state court complaint.
On July 9, 2012, the De Amarals filed the present case, which asserts causes of action against LHR's attorneys, Goldsmith & Hull, P.C. ("G&H") and Eric Mintz, an associate at G&H (together, "defendants"). Their complaint alleges that the defendants' failure to identify the original creditor in the state court complaint violates section 1692e of the FDCPA and corresponding sections of the RFDCPA, which prohibit a materially "false, deceptive, or misleading representation... in connection with the collection of [the] debt." 15 U.S.C. § 1692e. On February 11, 2014, I granted the De Amarals's motion for summary judgment and found that the state court complaint's language violates the FDCPA and RFDCPA because it is materially misleading to the least sophisticated debtor. Dkt. No. 83. I entered judgment in favor of the De Amarals accordingly, which entitles them to their reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. Dkt. No. 84. The De Amarals filed the present motion on February 25, 2014, seeking attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $123, 005.30. Dkt. No. 86.
Congress has provided a statutory right to recover attorneys' fees under the FDCPA. Camacho v. Bridgeport Financial, Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 2008). The prevailing party in actions brought under the FDCPA may recover reasonable attorney's fees and costs from the opposing side. Id. ; see also 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). "The FDCPA's statutory language makes an award of fees mandatory." Camacho, 523 F.3d at 978 (citation omitted). The purpose of this fee-shifting provision is to encourage private enforcement of the FDCPA. Id.
To calculate an award of attorneys' fees, district courts use the lodestar method. The lodestar is calculated "by multiplying the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate." Id. at 978. Although the lodestar figure is generally presumed to be a reasonable fee award, a district court "may, if circumstances warrant, adjust the lodestar to account for other factors which are not subsumed within it." Id. District courts have "a great deal of discretion in determining the reasonableness of the fee." Id. The party seeking an award of fees bears the burden of submitting evidence supporting the hours worked and the rates claimed. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S 424, 433 (1983). "Where the documentation of hours is inadequate, the district court may reduce the awards accordingly." Id. To determine what is a reasonable lodestar amount, the court may "exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Id. at 434. Additionally, the court must determine a reasonable hourly rate by considering "the experience, skill, and reputation of the attorney requesting fees." Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210 (9th Cir. 1986).
It is undisputed that the De Amarals are the prevailing party and are entitled to attorneys' fees and costs under the FDCPA. The De Amarals seek $117, 740.00 in attorneys' fees and $5, 265.30 in costs, for a total award of $123, 005.30. Br. 5. The defendants contest the amount the De Amarals should recover in attorneys' fees and assert that "reasonable attorneys' fees would be $8, 100.00." Opp 11.
I. ATTORNEYS' FEES
The De Amarals seek to recover $117, 740.00 in attorneys' fees. Br. 5. To support this amount, they provided declarations in support of the hourly rates sought by their attorneys and an itemized schedule detailing the services rendered by their attorneys, the hours worked in rendering those services, broken down by task, and the hourly rate billed by the attorney performing a particular task. Schwinn Decl., Ex. A. Mr. Schwinn provided 220.5 hours of work at an hourly rate of $450.00, for a total of $99, 225.00. Mr Roulston provided 52.9 hours of work at an hourly rate of $350.00, for a total of $18, 515.00. Br. 5.
Mr. Roulston states that he spent an additional 0.6 hours in this matter reviewing the defendants' opposition and 6.4 hours drafting the reply brief. Roulston Supp. Decl. ¶ 3.
A. Reasonableness of Hourly Rate
I must first evaluate whether counsel's billing rates are reasonable. "[T]he established standard when determining a reasonable hourly rate is the rate prevailing in the community for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience and reputation." Camacho, 523 F.3d at 971. "Affidavits of the plaintiffs' attorney and other attorneys regarding prevailing fees in the community and rate determinations in other cases... are satisfactory ...