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Eagle Systems and Services, Inc. v. International Association of Machinists

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 31, 2017

EAGLE SYSTEMS AND SERVICES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS, DISTRICT LODGE 725, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS, DISTRICT LODGE 725'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES

          JOHN A. MENDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The fight between Eagle and Union continues. Plaintiff Eagle Systems and Services, Inc. (“Eagle”) punched first when it allegedly violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”). Defendant International Association of Machinists, District Lodge 725 (“Union”) hit back by prevailing in arbitration. Eagle, unshaken, filed a complaint in this Court to vacate that award. ECF No. 1. Feeling sucker punched, Union moved to dismiss and counter moved to confirm the award. ECF No. 7. This Court declared Union the winner by a TKO and awarded attorneys' fees. Order, ECF No. 25. Having reviewed the parties' briefs, see Mot., ECF No. 27; Opp'n, ECF No. 28; Reply, ECF No. 29, the Court now sets the amount of the attorneys' fees awarded to Union at $17, 584.50.[1]

         I. OPINION

         Because this Court's previous Order details the underlying dispute that generated this litigation, the Court will not repeat the facts. See generally Order. Equally important, although Eagle “did not challenge the Court's [bad faith] ruling, ” see Opp'n at 1, Eagle still disputes whether its conduct constituted an unjustified refusal to abide by an arbitration award. This Court already concluded it did. See Order at 18-20 (explaining Eagle sought to frustrate the award by unjustifiably refusing to abide by the arbitrator's decision). Eagle does not get a second bite at the apple.

         A. Lodestar Method

         When evaluating requests for attorneys' fees, the court always begins by calculating the lodestar amount, which involves multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). A court should exclude from this initial calculation any “excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary” hours expended. See id. at 434.

         But the inquiry does not end there. There remain other factors that may compel a court to “adjust the fee upward or downward.” See id. These include:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and the 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.

Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1975), abrogated on other grounds by City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557 (1992). These Kerr factors, however, are often subsumed within the lodestar amount, so courts must ensure they account for any potential overlap. See Cunningham v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 879 F.2d 481, 487 (9th Cir. 1989). And, finally, this district's Local Rule 293(c)(13) adds one more factor: “[S]uch other matters as the Court may deem appropriate under the circumstances.”

         The party seeking fees should provide documentary evidence showing “the number of hours spent, and how it determined the hourly rate(s) requested.” McCown v. City of Fontana, 565 F.3d 1097, 1102 (9th Cir. 2008). Then the opposing party must submit specific rebuttal evidence “challenging the accuracy and reasonableness of the hours charged or the facts asserted by” the moving party. Gates v. Gomez, 60 F.3d 525, 534-35 (9th Cir. 1995).

         B. Analysis

         Union requests $32, 968.75 in attorneys' fees, arguing that these were reasonably and necessarily incurred, especially given labor arbitration's compensation and deterrence goals. See generally Mot. Union contends that the Court need not make a lodestar adjustment. See id. at 8. As further explained below, the Court disagrees.

         1. Hourly Rates

         To determine the reasonableness of the hourly rates requested, a court looks to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community for “similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984); Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210-11 (9th Cir. 1986). The relevant community is generally the forum in which the district court sits-not where counsel's firm resides. Barjon v. Dalton, 132 F.3d 496, 500 (9th Cir. 1997). The “burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory evidence-in addition to the attorney's own affidavits-that the requested [hourly] rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Blum, 465 U.S. at 895 n.11.

         Union states the requested rates “reflect the market rates . . . in the Bay Area and Sacramento Valley.” Mot. at 4. Although Eagle does not challenge the hourly rates Union seeks, See Opp'n at 2 (disputing only the hours expended), the Court finds it unreasonable to, as Union does, treat the Bay Area and Sacramento Valley as the same “community.” Indeed, courts in this district treat the two separately. See Jones v. Cty. of Sacramento, No. 09-1025, 2011 WL 3584332, at *8 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 12, 2011); Beecham v. City of West Sacramento, No. 07-1115, 2009 WL 3824793, at *4 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 16, 2009).

         This distinction matters because the parties litigated the case-the case underlying Union's Motion for Attorneys' Fees-in Sacramento where this Court sits. See Barjon, 132 F.3d at 500. Because it would be unreasonable to accept rates based on a market different from where the case was litigated, the Court rejects any hourly rates based on Bay ...


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