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Butler v. Homeservices Lending LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

October 27, 2014

KELLY BUTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
HOMESERVICES LENDING LLC, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS [DOC. 140]

M. JAMES LORENZ, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 140. The motion is fully briefed. See Def.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 146; Pl.'s Reply, ECF No. 147. The Court found this motion suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument in accordance with Civil Local Rule 7.1(d.1). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kelly Butler ("Butler") commenced the instant action against Defendant Homeservices Lending LLC d/b/a Homeservices and Doherty Employment Group, Inc. ("HSL") to recover unpaid wages under federal and state law in the Central District Court of California on June 7, 2011. Compl., ECF No. 1. On October 4, 2011, the Central District court transferred Butler's case to the Southern District of California because it determined that her case was related to five other cases pending in the Southern District[1]. Transfer Order, ECF No. 13-1. On December 3, 2013, Butler's case proceeded to trial before this Court. Min. Entry, ECF No. 115. After four days of trial, on December 9, 2013, the jury returned a verdict[2] for Butler. Jury Verdict, ECF No. 125. On December 27, 2013, HSL filed a motion for the Court's ruling on its affirmative defense of equitable estoppel. Mot. Ruling Equitable Estoppel, ECF No. 130. The Court denied HSL's motion on May 29, 2014. Order Denying Def.'s Mot. Equitable Estoppel, ECF No. 138.

Butler now moves for an award of attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Pl.'s Mot. Butler asserts she is entitled to $489, 697.97 in attorneys' fees and $16, 687.22 in non-taxable costs. Pl.'s Reply, ¶ VI[3]. HSL does not dispute that Butler is entitled to attorneys' fees, but opposes Butler's motion as to the amount requested, arguing that it is excessive and that this Court should award Butler no more than $256, 333.65 in both attorneys' fees and costs. Def.'s Opp'n, ¶¶ I, IV.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A. REASONABLE ATTORNEY'S FEES

Plaintiffs are entitled to reasonable attorney's fees under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); see also Newhouse v. Robert's Ilima Tours, Inc., 708 F.2d 436, 441 (9th Cir. 1983) ("The FLSA grants prevailing plaintiffs a reasonable attorney's fee."). Courts in the Ninth Circuit calculate an award of attorneys' fees 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." Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). Additionally, district courts may exercise their discretion in determining the amount of the fee award. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983) (finding the district court has a "superior understanding of the litigation" and to avoid "frequent appellate review of what essentially are factual matters").

The fee applicant bears the burden of demonstrating that the number of hours spent were "reasonably expended" and that counsel made "a good faith effort to exclude from [the] fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Id. at 434. It is likewise the fee applicant's burden to "submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed... [;] [w]here the documentation of hours is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award accordingly." Id. at 433. Furthermore, the fee applicant bears the burden to "prove that the rate charged is in line with the prevailing market rate of the relevant community.'" Carson v. Billings Police Dept., 470 F.3d 889, 891 (9th Cir. 2006). The "prevailing market 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 979 (quoting Barjon v. Dalton, 132 F.3d 496, 502 (9th Cir. 1997). Generally, the "relevant community is the forum in which the district court sits." Camacho, 523 F.3d at 979 (citing Barjon, 132 F.3d at 500).

"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 hours charged or the facts asserted by the prevailing party in its submitted affidavits." Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1397-98 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 892 n.5 (1984)). This party also has the burden of rebuttal to submit evidence to the district court challenging the reasonableness of the requested hourly rate with respect to the prevailing market rate of the relevant community. See Nadarajah v. Holder, 569 F.3d 906, 917-18 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Camacho, 523 F.3d at 980).

"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). Those factors-also known as the Kerr factors-include:

(1) the time and labor required, (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly, (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case, (5) the customary fee, (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent, (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances, (8) the amount involved and the results obtained, (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys, (10) the "undesirability" of the case, (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client, and (12) awards in similar cases.

Ballen v. City of Redmond, 466 F.3d 736, 746 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting McGrath v. Cnty. of Nevada, 67 F.3d 248, 252 (9th Cir. 1995)); see also Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1995).

B. REASONABLE COSTS

Plaintiffs are also entitled to reasonable costs of litigation under the FLSA. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); see also Murillo v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., No. CIV. 2:08-1974 WBS GGH, 2010 WL 2889728, at *10 (E.D. Cal. July 21, 2010) (finding prevailing plaintiffs allowed to recover reasonable costs under 29 U.S.C. Section 216(b)). Courts may tax as costs:

(1) fees of the clerk and marshal; (2) fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case; (3) fees and disbursements for printing and witnesses; (4) fees for exemplification and the costs of making copies of any materials where the copies are necessarily obtained for use in the case; (5) docket fees under section 1923 of this title; (6) compensation of court appointed ...

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