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Tsoi v. Patenaude & Felix

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 15, 2014

ANDY TSOI, Plaintiff,
v.
PATENAUDE & FELIX, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND DENYING SEPARATE BILL OF COSTS AS DUPLICATIVE

SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge.

Now before the Court is plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees and costs. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The Court also DENIES the separately-filed bill of costs as duplicative of costs awarded herein. Docket Nos. 43 and 44.

BACKGROUND

In January 2013, plaintiff Andy Tsoi brought this case against defendants Patenaude & Felix and Michael Boulanger alleging that they violated his rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1992o, and the California equivalent of the FDCPA, known as the Robbins-Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("Rosenthal Act"), Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1788-1788.32. Patenaude & Felix is a professional law corporation, and Mr. Boulanger is an attorney with that firm. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. The complaint alleges that plaintiff incurred a financial obligation, namely a consumer credit account issued by Discover Bank. Id. ¶ 12. The debt was transferred to defendants, who then filed a debt collection action against plaintiff in state court, Discover Bank v. Andy Tsoi, Case No. 1-12-CV-222379 (Santa Clara Sup.Ct.). Id. ¶ 14.[1] The complaint here alleges that the state court action sought to recover a time-barred debt, and that the state court complaint "misrepresented the character, amount and legal status of the debt." Id. ¶¶ 23-24.

In March 2013, defendants answered the federal complaint and in April, 2013, plaintiff filed a motion to strike numerous affirmative defenses asserted by defendants. The Court held a case management conference in May 2013, after which plaintiff withdrew the motion to strike and defendants filed amended answers that asserted some, but not all, of the affirmative defenses at issue in the motion to strike. Defendants served a Rule 68 offer of judgment the day before the parties were scheduled for a mediation, and plaintiff accepted the offer. The Rule 68 offer provided that plaintiff would receive $1, 001 inclusive of actual and statutory damages, plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs, if any. Docket No. 39.

On September 19, 2013, the Court entered judgment. Now before the Court is plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to the FDCPA.

LEGAL STANDARD

The FDCPA directs a court to award attorney's fees to a prevailing consumer. 15 U.S.C. 1692k(a)(3). The Ninth Circuit has held that "the FDCPA's statutory language makes an award of fees mandatory." Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). Courts calculate an award of attorney's fees under the FDCPA using the lodestar method, whereby a court multiplies "the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate." Id. "Although in most cases, the lodestar figure is presumptively a reasonable fee award, the district court may, if circumstances warrant, adjust the lodestar to account for other factors which are not subsumed within it." Ferland v. Conrad Credit Corp., 244 F.3d 1145, 1149 n. 4 (9th Cir. 2001).

"The party opposing the fee application has a burden of rebuttal that requires submission of evidence to the district court challenging the accuracy and reasonableness of the... facts asserted by the prevailing party in its submitted affidavits." Camacho, 523 F.3d at 980 (citing Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1397-98 (9th Cir.1992)). "The lodestar amount presumably reflects the novelty and complexity of the issues, the special skill and experience of counsel, the quality of representation, and the results obtained from the litigation." Intel Corp. v. Terabyte Int'l, Inc., 6 F.3d 614, 622 (9th Cir. 1993). Thus, there is a strong presumption that the lodestar amount represents a reasonable fee and any adjustment of that figure is proper only in "rare and exceptional cases." Van Gerwen v. Guar. Mut. Life Co., 214 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff seeks $17, 467.46 for time spent litigating this case, including litigating the contested fee motion. Defendant does not dispute that plaintiff is the prevailing party, but contends that "all of the fees and costs expended in this case were unreasonable as these claims could have been prosecuted at the same time the identical claims were prosecuted against Patenaude & Felix's client." Opp'n at 1:10-12. Defendant also contends that if the Court is inclined to grant any fees, the Court should award no more than $1, 500 in fees and costs.

I. Rates

The Court first evaluates whether counsel's billing rates are reasonable. Mr. Schwinn seeks a rate of $450 per hour, and Mr. Roulston seeks a rate of $300 per hour. "[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 evidence of the prevailing market rate." United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 896 F.3d 403, 407 (9th Cir. 1990).

In support of the fee request, plaintiff has submitted the declarations of plaintiff's counsel, Fred Schwinn and Raeon Roulston, as well as declarations from two attorneys who practice in the area of consumer law, Ronald Wilcox and Scott Maurer. Mr. Schwinn's declaration states that he is a shareholder in the law firm Consumer Law Center, Inc., and that he is a 1997 graduate of Washburn University School of Law. Schwinn Decl. ¶¶ 1, 4. Mr. Schwinn states that his practice is "limited exclusively to the representation of consumers, with particular emphasis on representing consumers under the [FDCPA], Truth in Lending Act, Telephone Consumers Protection Act, Uniform Commercial Code, common law fraud, misrepresentation and deceit, usury, and other laws enacted to protect consumers." Id. ¶ 5. Mr. Schwinn was honored as "Attorney of the Year" in 2013 by Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, and was also honored as "Outstanding Volunteer Attorney" in 2011 and 2012 by the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the San Francisco County Bar Association. Id. ¶ 7. Mr. Roulston is a 2007 graduate of Santa Clara University School of Law, and he states that his practice "is limited exclusively to the representation of ...


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