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Forkum v. Co-Operative Adjustment Bureau, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California, Oakland Division

July 3, 2014

JAMES FORKUM, Plaintiff,
v.
CO-OPERATIVE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, INC., Defendant.

ORDER

SAUNDRA BROWN ARMSTRONG, District Judge.

Plaintiff James Forkum ("Plaintiff") brings the instant action against Defendant Co-Operative Adjustment Bureau, Inc. ("Defendant") alleging claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., and California's Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("RFDCPA"), Cal. Civ. Code § 1788 et seq. See Dkt. 16. On May 22, 2014, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on his FDCPA and RFDCPA claims. Dkt. 37. The parties are presently before the Court on Plaintiff's motion for statutory damages, attorney's fees, and costs. Dkt. 38. Defendant opposes the motion. Dkt. 39. Having read and considered the papers filed in connection with this matter and being fully informed, the Court hereby GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion, for the reasons stated below. The Court, in its discretion, finds this matter suitable for resolution without oral argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b); N.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 7-1(b).

I. DISCUSSION

In the instant motion, Plaintiff does not seek actual damages. Instead, Plaintiff seeks an award of $24, 261.90, consisting of: (1) statutory damages under the FDCPA in the amount of $1, 000; (2) statutory damages under the RFDCPA in the amount of $1, 000; (3) attorney's fees in the amount of $21, 097.30; and (4) costs in the amount of $1, 164.60. In response, Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff is entitled to an award of statutory damages under the FDCPA. However, Defendant contends that Plaintiff is not entitled to an award of statutory damages under the RFDCPA because there has been no showing that Defendant willfully and knowingly violated the statute. In addition, while Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff is entitled to an award of attorney's fees and costs under the FDCPA and RFDCPA, Defendant challenges the reasonableness of Plaintiff's attorney's fees request.

A. Statutory Damages

1. FDCPA

If a debt collector fails to comply with any provision of the FDCPA, a plaintiff may recover statutory damages not to exceed $1, 000. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(2)(A). In determining the amount of liability, the court must consider, among other relevant factors, "the frequency and persistence of noncompliance by the debt collector, the nature of such noncompliance, and the extent to which such noncompliance was intentional." 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(b)(1).

In granting summary judgment for the Plaintiff, the Court found that Defendant violated the FDCPA and RFDCPA when its employee failed to identify himself as a debt collector in a voicemail message left for Plaintiff concerning the collection of a consumer debt. Given the nature and extent of Defendant's noncompliance with the FDCPA and the lack of evidence suggesting that Defendant's noncompliance was intentional, the Court finds that an award of $250 dollars in statutory damages is appropriate. See Mejia v. Marauder Corp. , 2007 WL 806486, at *11 (N.D. Cal. 2007) (concluding that $250 in statutory damages was appropriate where there was only a single collection letter and the violations of the FDCPA were not frequent or persistent). Plaintiff has failed to show that a maximum statutory damage award is warranted for a single violation of the FDCPA. Plaintiff has not submitted any evidence demonstrating that Defendant has frequently or persistently failed to comply with the FDCPA or that Defendant's employee failed to identify himself as a debt collector in an attempt to intentionally circumvent the purpose of the FDCPA.[1] Rather, it appears that the employee simply made a mistake.

2. RFDCPA

If a debt collector willfully and knowingly violates any provision of the RFDCPA, a plaintiff may recover no less than $100 but no more than $1, 000. Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.30(b). Such damages may be awarded cumulatively to those awarded under the FDCPA. Gonzales v. Arrow Financial Servs., Inc. , 660 F.3d 1055, 1069 (9th Cir. 2011); see 15 U.S.C. § 1692n ("This subchapter does not... exempt any person... from complying with the laws of any State with respect to debt collection practices...."); Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.32 ("The remedies provided herein are intended to be cumulative and are in addition to any other procedures, rights, or remedies under any other provision of law.").

The Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that he is entitled to statutory damages under the RFDCPA. Unlike the FDCPA, a plaintiff seeking to recover statutory damages[2] under the RFDCPA must show that the defendant willfully and knowingly violated the statute. Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.30(b). Plaintiff has not made such a showing. Indeed, in moving for summary judgment, Plaintiff did not argue or offer any evidence demonstrating that Defendant willfully and knowingly violated the RFDCPA. Accordingly, a statutory damage award under the RFDCPA is not appropriate.

B. Attorney's Fees

Under both the FDCPA and the RFDCPA, a prevailing plaintiff is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney's fees and costs. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3); Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.30(c). "The FDCPA's statutory language makes an award of fees mandatory. The reason for mandatory fees is that Congress chose a private attorney general approach to assume enforcement of the FDCPA." Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc. , 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted). District courts must calculate awards for attorney's fees using the lodestar method, and the amount of that fee must be determined on the facts of each case. Id . The lodestar is calculated by multiplying the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Id . The lodestar is deemed to be presumptively reasonable, though a district court has the discretion to consider an upward or downward adjustment. Id . The party seeking an award of fees bears the burden of submitting evidence supporting the hours worked and the rates claimed. See Hensley v. Eckerhart , 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Welch v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. , 480 F.3d 942, 945-946 (9th Cir. 2007).

Plaintiff requests an award of attorney's fees in the amount of $21, 097.30, comprised of 61 hours of attorney time at hourly rates ranging from $290 per hour to $387 per hour, and 5.2 hours of paralegal time at an hourly rate of $145 per hour. Pl.'s Mot. at 4. Defendant does not oppose Plaintiff's entitlement to attorney's fees and costs. Instead, Defendant opposes the amount of the fees requested on the ground that the hours expended by Plaintiff's counsel were unreasonable. Def.'s Opp. at 3. Specifically, Defendant argues, without further elaboration, that "plaintiff undertook inordinate efforts which appear to defendant to have been primarily intended solely to run up an extremely high attorney fee award. Plaintiff propounded Requests for Admissions (18); Requests for Production of Documents (16); Interrogatories (18); Requests to Admit Genuineness of Documents (13); and one deposition." Id . According to Defendant, "[v]ery little of this discovery ...


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