United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division
JAGDEEP S. BIDWAL Plaintiff.
UNIFUND CCR PARTNERS; UNIFUND PORTFOLIO A, LLC; MATTHEW W. QUALL; LANG, RICHERT & PATCH, A PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION; ELECTRONIC DOCUMENT PROCESSING, INC.; JULIO ASCORRA. Defendants. Task Trueblood Hours Stempler Hours Block Hours Attorney Hours Rate Amount Date Stempler Trueblood Block Date Stempler Trueblood Block Date Attorney Task Attorney Rate Sought Rate Awarded Hours Sought Hours Awarded Total
ORDER (1) GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
ATTORNEY'S FEES AND (2) DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
STRIKE RE: ECF NO. 112
BEELER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff defaulted on a credit-card debt to Citibank and
sued the defendants - who assumed the debt - based on their
allegedly illegal attempts to collect the debt (allegedly by
fraudulent service and an invalid default judgment and writ
of execution), in violation of the federal Fair Debt
Collections Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and
California's Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices
September 2018, the parties settled the case for $24, 500,
stipulated that the plaintiff was the prevailing party, and
agreed that the court would decide a fees
plaintiff asked for fees of $381, 615 (for 288.6 hours worked
by three attorneys for a total of $190, 807.50 plus a 2.0
multiplier) and costs of $2, 267.48. The defendants challenge the fees as
unreasonable but do not challenge costs. The court awards $95, 275
in reasonable fees and $2, 267.48 in costs.
Facts Underlying the Complaint
defendants are as follows. Unifund is a debt-collection
agency, its collection lawyers are Quall Cardot and Lang
Richert & Patch, and the lawyers' process servers are
EDP, Williams, and Ascorra.
plaintiff defaulted on his credit-card debt to Citibank,
which wrote off the balance of $3, 665.01 in September 2008
and sold the debt to Unifund in 2010. The plaintiff's address on the
account was 4631 Kester Avenue, Apartment 103, Sherman Oaks,
The plaintiff alleges that he moved from the Kester address
to the Bay Area at around the time of default, but he never
gave Citibank notice that he moved, which meant that the
Kester address remained his account address. On July 6, 2010, Unifund
sent a collection letter to the plaintiff at his new address
in Union City.
referred the case to its attorneys, Lang Richert & Patch,
for collection. On September 7, 2010, the firm sent a
collection letter to the Kester address. It was not returned
November 2010, Unifund sued the plaintiff in Los Angeles
County Superior Court. Mr. Quall was counsel of
December 6, 2010, Lang Richert's process server EDP tried
unsuccessfully to serve the plaintiff at the Kester
EDP's “Declaration re Diligence” states that
service was unsuccessful because “subject not at this
address” and “there are new tenants living at the
given apt number.”
defendants engaged in the following efforts to confirm the
December 2010, Lang Richert submitted a request to the
Sherman Oaks Postmaster to determine whether the plaintiff
submitted a change-of-address form, and the Postmaster
responded that there was no change-of-address order on
thereafter made three attempts to serve the plaintiff at the
Kester address and then, on June 12, 2011, served the
plaintiff by substitute service at the Kester address by
leaving a copy of the summons and complaint with the occupant
and mailed a copy to the address.
October 13, 2011, the state clerk of court entered default
judgment against the plaintiff and in favor of Unifund in the
amount of $3, 665.01, $1, 116.57 in accrued interest, and
$303.00 in costs for a total of $5, 084.58.
2012, the collection lawyers' skip tracing showed that
the plaintiff lived in San Ramon. The state-court files show that the
defendants continued serving the plaintiff at the Kester
address, including an October 2012 memorandum of costs, a
March 18, 2013 bank levy, and a January 2015 change of
October 19, 2016, the collection lawyer levied the
plaintiff's bank accounts in Northern California in the
amount of $4, 594.41. The plaintiff called Quall Cardot, said
that he had not been served, and provided proof of his
address in 2010 including his Homeland Security documents and
his marriage certificate.
February 2017, Unifund stipulated to set aside the default
Relevant Procedural and Settlement History
plaintiff filed his initial complaint in May
According to Plaintiff's counsel, they offered early to
settle for $17, 000 cash plus $7, 500 in value for dismissal
of the state case. (Ultimately, 18 months into the case, the
federal case settled for $24, 500 plus attorney's fees
and costs.) The timeline after the filing of the
complaint is as follows:
June 5, 2017: Plaintiff offers $36, 322.33 to settle case
(inclusive of $12, 233 in fees).
June-August 2017: Rule 26(f) conference and report, discuss
ADR optionsAugust 2017: First Amended
September 2017: Answer from Lang, Richert, & Patch;
Quall/Unifund serve initial disclosures; Draft Motion to
Strike shared with defendants
October 2017: Amended Answer from EDP et al
December 2017: EDP offers to settle for $5, 000 (inclusive of
January 2018: Plaintiff counters with $17, 000 plus fees and
January 2018 Unifund/Quall demand dismissal of
February 2018: Initial case-management
March-April 2018 Unifund/Quall ask to excuse client reps from
attending mediation; court orders attendance
April 2018 EDP initial disclosures
April 23, 2018 Unifund/Quall asks for updated demand;
plaintiff offers $18, 000 for Unifund/Quall or $24, 000
global, plus fees/costs
May 2018 Settlement talks with Unifund in-house
June 14, 2018 Mediation; process servers are no shows;
defendants serve plaintiff with state court
June 26, 2018 Plaintiff offers $20, 000 plus dismissal of
state case plus fees/costs
July 2018 Settlement offers from defendants of $10, 000 and
later $12, 000 plus fees/costs (but no dismissal of state
case); plaintiff counters with $20, 000 plus dismissal plus
July 2018 Plaintiff responds to “extensive”
August 2018 Parties dispute whether federal case should be
stayed; plaintiff files second amended complaint; plaintiff
settles with defendant Williams (the process server) for $1,
September 14, 2018: Case settles for remaining defendants for
$24, 500 ($16, 000 in cash from Unifund/Quall, $1, 000 from
Williams, dismissal of the state case (a $7, 500 value) with
the court to determine fees and costs
Fall 2018: Finalize Written Settlement
December 28, 2018 Stipulated Dismissal
initial case-management conference in February 2018, the
court limited discovery to documents to keep costs
the court referred the case for a settlement conference, the
parties disputed whether the stay remained in place, and the
court ordered them to file a discovery plan, reminding them
that they should keep costs low. On July 30, 2018, the parties
reported the following: (1) the plaintiff wanted to stay the
federal case and favored staying discovery; (2) the plaintiff
and the defendants propounded interrogatories, requests for
admission, and requests for production of documents; and (3)
the defendants noticed depositions of plaintiff's wife,
mother, and father, all in Southern California (despite their
living in the Bay Area). On August 2, 2018, the court ordered the
parties to file a briefing schedule for the motion to stay
within seven days.The plaintiff decided not to file the
Unifund's request, on August 16, 2018 at a
case-management conference, the court ordered the plaintiff
to respond to the defendants' 18 requests for admission
and 20 interrogatories and gave the parties 21 days to file a
deposition schedule and a joint letter addressing any
discovery disputes. On September 13, 2018, the parties filed
a deposition schedule, and on September 19, 2018, the
plaintiff filed a notice of settlement.
Charts Showing (1) Attorney Time Billed by Task and (2) Total
First Amended Complaint
Second Amended Complaint; Motion for Leave
Motion to Strike
Mediation - Preparation; Travel/Attend
Fees Motion & Reply
Discovery & Discovery Related
$ 81, 900.00
$ 4, 290.00
$ 190, 807.50
Plus 2.0 Multiplier
$ 2, 267.48
Parties' Declarations Regarding Fees
John D. O'Connor - Plaintiff
O'Connor is an attorney with forty-seven years of legal
experience and has been an attorney's-fee expert
approximately 150 times. He worked at several private firms in
the Bay Area and the U.S. Attorney's Office in San
Francisco before opening his own firm, which specializes in
business and tort litigation and expert work on
attorney's-fee analysis. Mr. O'Connor has been involved in
legal fee-review cases since 1977 and developed his expertise
in the area via work involving legal auditing and
consulting. He is a member and lecturer at the
National Association of Legal Fee Analysis, which is an
organization dedicated to continuing education and the
development of legal-fee-billing standards.
worked as a special counsel and director from 2001 to 2006 at
the law firm Howard Rice, Mr. O'Connor kept informed
about the rates of both AmLaw 500 firms and smaller business
firms in order to set the annual rates of the
firm did work throughout California, their surveys included
rates from the northern and southern parts of the state, and
in his experience, “the rate structure of the San
Francisco Bay Area is virtually identical to that in the
greater Los Angeles area.” He opines on fees in this case
based on his litigation, firm, and fee-expert
O'Connor opines that Mr. Trueblood's rate of $725 an
hour is reasonable based on the middle range of rates of
AmLaw 500 firms practicing in San Francisco and Los Angeles
as these rates are like those charged by reputable small and
mid-sized firms. To support his opinion that Mr.
Trueblood's $725 hourly rate is reasonable, he notes that
Los Angeles courts awarded Mr. Trueblood an hourly rate of
$495 in 2009 and an arbitrator awarded him $675 per hour in
Mr. Stempler, Mr. O'Connor notes his experience, cites to
decisions from court in Southern California, and states that
eight to eleven years of fee increases since those cases
equate to the requested rate of $600 per hour. In 2017, a court
awarded Mr. Block $475 per hour and opines that an increase
to $550 is reasonable given the legal market. Mr. O'Connor opines
that the attorneys' hours are reasonable.
response to the defendants' motion to strike his opinion,
Mr. O'Connor explains why two courts in the Northern
District rejected parts of his opinions about reasonable
hourly rates. Both cases were unusual fee petitions in
hotly contested litigation and do not affect the analysis here.
Alexander Trueblood - Plaintiff
Trueblood is the plaintiff's counsel, is a consumer-law
and class-action specialist, and has 28 years of legal
experience. He worked at several reputable firms
before opening his own firm in 1999. Top partners at major firms billed
at rates averaging $900 per hour in 2012 while average rates
for partners in surveyed firms within major markets averaged
rates of $700 per hour in the same year. Courts have approved
his hourly rates of $650 to $700 in southern California in
the following cases: Vitrano v. Santander Consumer USA,
Inc., Case No. 2:13-cv-02492-AB-MRW (C.D. Cal. Feb. 2,
2015) ($700 in a class-action settlement of a consumer-credit
case involving violations of the UCL and the Rees-Levering
Automobile Sales Finance Act); Jimenez v. Alaska USA Fed.
Credit Union, Case No. BC516470 (Cal. Super. Ct. 2015)
($700 in a case involving violations of the Rees-Levering
Automobile Sales Finance Act); Wickremaratne v. Gateway
One Lending & Finance, Case No. BC493061 (Cal.
Super. Ct. 2015) ($700 in a class-action settlement involving
violations of the Rees-Levering Automobile Sales Finance
Act); Wimberly v. Triad Financial Corp., Case No.
30-2008-00059511 (Cal. Super. Ct. 2013) ($700 in a class
action settlement); Walker v. Westlake Financial,
Case No. BC436725 (Cal. Super. Ct. 2012) ($675 in a
class-action settlement involving violations of the
Rees-Levering Automobile Sales Finance Act); Bruno v.
Capital One, Case No. BC 397149 (Cal. Super. Ct. 2011)
($650 in a class-action settlement); Tan v. Wheels
Financial Group, Inc., Alternative Resolution Centers,
ARC Case No. 78M4930 ($675 in 2017 in an individual
consumer-credit reporting ADR case). He also cites a Northern District
case: Baker v. GEMB Lending, Inc., Case No.
10-cv-05261-SBA (N.D. Cal. Dec. 20, 2012) ($675 in an
uncontested fees order in a class-action settlement of a case
involving violations of the Rees-Levering Automobile Sales
Finance Act and the UCL).
turned down other work as a result of this
supplemental declaration, Mr. Trueblood said that he worked
30 hours on the reply brief, Mr. Stempler worked on it too,
and he asks for 15 hours.
Robert Stempler - Plaintiff
Stempler also is the plaintiff's counsel and is a
consumer-rights specialist with over twenty years of
experience. He cites cases in southern California
where courts awarded him between $240 and $350 per hour in
2006 to 2008: Amrbiz v. Arrow Fin. Services, LLC,
2008 WL 2095617, Case No. 07-cv-5423-JFW (C.D. Cal. May 15,
2008) ($350 in an individual FDCPA case); Miller v.
Midland Funding, LLC, Case No. 07-cv-04869-ODW (C.D.
Cal. April 29, 2008) ($350 in an individual FDCPA case); and
Harlow v. Midland Credit Management, Inc., 2007 WL
3165669, Case No. 07-cv-5045-ABC (C.D. Cal. Sept. 5, 2007)
($300 in a case where the plaintiff filed a removal motion
with no “objectively reasonable basis” and
attorney's fees were awarded as a result).
turned down other cases to work on this one.
Brandon Block - Plaintiff
Block also is the plaintiff's counsel, has nearly twenty
years of experience, and has specialized in
consumer-protection litigation since 2007. Based on personal
inquiries, his rate of $550 per hour is below the billing
rates of his contemporaries at other law firms engaged in
similar litigation, and he lists cases where southern
California courts awarded him hourly rates from $375 to $525
in 2007 to 2016: Miranda v. Simple Cash Loans, Inc.,
Case No. BC580634 (Cal. Sup. Ct. 2016) ($525 in class-action
settlement in case involving violations of California's
finance-lenders law); Vitrano v. Santander Consumer USA,
Inc., Case No. 2:13-cv-02492-AB-MRW (C.D. Cal. Feb. 2,
2015) ($465-$490 in a class-action settlement of a
consumer-credit case involving violations of the UCL and the
Rees-Levering Automobile Sales Finance Act); Travis v.
Consumer Portfolio Services, Inc., Case No.
34-2012-00131362 (Cal. Sup. Ct. 2012) ($425-$465 awarded in
turned down work on other cases by taking this
Tomio Narita - Defendant
Narita is the defendant's counsel, has twenty-seven years
of experience, and spent the last twenty-three years almost
exclusively defending creditors, collection agencies, and law
firms in class and individual actions. He charged the
defendants $435 to $450 per hour, which he believes is a
reasonable rate for someone with his expertise in FDCPA
cases, and his clients would not pay the plaintiff's
He attached charts attacking the plaintiff's
Steven Nimoy - Defendant
Nimoy is the defendants' counsel, has practiced law for
twenty-four years, and frequently defends FDCPA
He bills his clients $250 per hour for FDCPA cases, and they
would not pay more than $250 to $300 per hour, and he
believes $300 is reasonable.
June Coleman - Defendant
Coleman is an attorney at Carlson & Messer, has
twenty-one years of experience, practices extensively in
FDCPA actions in the Northern District, and provides evidence
of the market rate in the district. Her knowledge of the rates in the
district is based on her own billing rates, discussions with
client and others regarding rates paid to attorneys for
similar work, and discussions with other attorneys about what
they are paid. She bills her private clients no more
than $300 per hour in cases like this, and her clients likely
would not pay more than $250 to $300 per hour. In a 2008 Northern
District case, a court awarded $375 per hour, but that was a
more complex case than this case.
Stephen Turner - Defendant
Turner is a law-firm partner at Lewis Brisbois and chairs his
firm's Consumer Litigation Defense & Financial
Services practice group. He has thirty-nine years of experience
and provided information about the market rate in the
Northern District. He bills his clients $425 per hour,
his clients likely would not pay more than $375 for the
services provided here, and he supports an hourly rate here
Mark Ellis - Defendant
Ellis is an attorney at Ellis Law Group, has thirty-two years
of experience, and regularly defends financial institutions
in FDCPA cases. He bills his clients no more than $275
per hour in FDCPA matters, which is a reasonable rate for
attorneys with his experience in the Northern
District. His clients likely would pay no more
than $275 to $300 per hour, but he believes $400 to $500 per
hour would be reasonable in this case.
Fred Schwinn - Plaintiff (on Reply)
Schwinn is an attorney at Consumer Law Center, Inc., has
twenty-two years of legal experience, and provides
information about the market rate in the Northern
District. His name is in the survey of fees
attached to the defendants' opposition. His current rate
is $650 per hour, and courts in Santa Clara County, Santa
Cruz County, San Francisco County, and San Mateo County have
awarded him $600 per hour in 2018 and 2019.
Ronald Wilcox - Plaintiff (on Reply)
Wilcox is a consumer-protection attorney at Wilcox Law Firm,
P.C., has been practicing since 1995, and is mentioned in the
defendants' fees survey, and a court in the Northern
District has awarded him an hourly rate of
See Garcia v. Resurgent Capital Servs, L.P., No.
C-11-1253 EMC, 2012 WL 3778852 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 30, 2012)
plaintiff asks for $190, 807.50 based on 288.6 hours billed
and asks for a 2.0 multiplier, resulting in a total fee
request of $381, 615. The defendants challenge the billing
rates, the hours billed, and the 2.0
multiplier. The court reduces the hourly rates,
reduces the hours, does not apply a multiplier, and awards
$95, 275 in fees and $2, 267.48 in costs.
collector who violates the FDCPA and the Rosenthal Act is
liable for costs and reasonable attorney's fees. 15
U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3); Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.17
& 1788.30(c). Under the terms of the settlement
agreement, the plaintiff is the prevailing party, and the
defendants will pay reasonable attorney's fees and
fees analysis for the federal and state statutes begins with
the lodestar. The “lodestar” is calculated by
multiplying the number of hours the prevailing party
reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly
rate. City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 559
(1992). California also utilizes the lodestar method
in determining a fee award. Chavez v. City of Los
Angeles, 47 Cal.4th 970, 985 (2010); see also
Cavalry SPV I, LLC v. Watkins, 36 Cal.App. 5th 1070,
1100-01 (2019) (applying the lodestar to a Rosenthal Act
plaintiff asks for the following hourly rates: $725 for Mr.
Trueblood, $600 for Mr. Stempler, and $550 for Mr. Block. The
defendants counter that the rates “should be awarded in
the range of $350 per hour” and that -- while Mr. Block
should not receive any compensation at all -- any award would
be at “an hourly rate commensurate with other junior
attorneys practicing in the Northern
District.” The court awards $475 for Mr.
Trueblood, $375 for Mr. Stempler, and $325 for Mr. Block.
district court determines a reasonable hourly rate based on
the “experience, skill, and reputation of the attorney
requesting fees.” Chalmers v. City of Los
Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210 (9th Cir. 1986). This task
is “inherently difficult.” Blum v.
Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984). To assist with
the determination the court looks to “the rate
prevailing in the community for similar work performed by
attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and
reputation.” Chalmers, 796 F.3d at 1210-11.
This community is typically that in which the district court
sits. Schwarz v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 73 F.3d 895, 906 (9th Cir. 1995). The burden is
on the fee applicant to show his or her fee is in line with
prevailing market rates. Blum, 465 U.S. at 895 n.11.
“Affidavits of the plaintiffs' attorney and other
attorneys regarding prevailing fees in the community, and
rate determinations in other cases, particularly those
setting a rate for the plaintiffs' attorney, are
satisfactory evidence of the prevailing market rate.”
United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp.,
896 F.2d 403, 407 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Widrig v.
Apfel, 140 F.3d 1207, 1209-10 (9th Cir. 1998)
(declarations by attorneys regarding the prevailing market
rate in the community may be enough to establish a reasonable
rate in the market). In some cases, the court may look
outside of the forum community for rates if local counsel is
unavailable “either because they are unwilling or
unable to perform because they lack the degree of experience,
expertise, or specialization required to handle properly the
case.” Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392,
1405 (9th Cir. 1992) (adopting the reasoning of other circuit
courts for considering out of district rates).
awarding fees, the court considers fee awards in similar
cases involving similar work by comparable attorneys in the
Northern District of California.
defendants cite FDCPA cases in the Northern District where
courts have awarded hourly rates ranging from $250 to
See Forto v. Capital One Bank, N.A., No.
14-cv-05611-JD (MEJ), 2017 WL 4168529 (N.D. Cal Sept. 20,
2017) (hourly rate of $250 and $200 respectively to defense
partner with 12 years' experience and an experienced
associate in a simple FDCPA/Rosenthal case involving a debt
of approximately $3, 000 where the plaintiff acted in bad
faith and sought to harass the defendant; required the
defendants to submit billing records); Jacobson v.
Persolve, LLC, No. 14-cv-00735-LHK, 2016 WL 7230873
(N.D. Cal. Dec. 14, 2016) (hourly rates of $500 for attorney
with 19 years' experience and $600 for an attorney with
40 years' experience in putative FDCPA and Rosenthal
class action); Ng v. U.S. Bank, N.A., No.
15-cv-04998-KAW, 2016 WL 7157760 (N.D. Cal Dec. 8, 2016)
($300 hourly rate to attorney with 20 years' experience
in a case alleging wrongful foreclosure, fraudulent
concealment, and violations of the FDCPA, Truth in Lending
Act, and UCL); Alvarado v. Hovg, LLC, No.
14-cv-02549-HSG, 2016 WL 5462429 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2016)
(hourly rates of $450 and $400 in putative class action where
the plaintiff settled for $43, 000 for alleged TCPA and FDCPA
violations); Jiang v. New Millennium Concepts, Inc.,
No. 15-cv-04722-JST, 2016 WL 3682474 (N.D. Cal. July 11,
2016) (hourly rate of $500 to experienced plaintiff's
attorney where the court entered a default judgment of $10,
462.90 against the defendant for non-complex FDCPA and
Rosenthal violations); Price-Pauline v. Performant
Recovery, Inc., No. 14-cv-00850-JD, 2016 WL 310268 (N.D.
Cal. Jan. 26, 2016) (hourly rate of $600 to attorney with 28
years' experience, $500 to attorney with 20 years'
experience, and $375 to attorney with six years'
experience in case alleging violations of the FDCPA,
Rosenthal Act, and California UCL where the plaintiff
recovered $12, 500); Martell v. Baker, No.
14-cv-04723-BLF, 2015 WL 3920056 (N.D. Cal. June 25, 2015)
(hourly rate of $500 to attorney with 18 years'
experience in a non-complex FDCPA/Rosenthal case); Garcia
v. Resurgent Capital Services, L.P., 2012 WL 3778852
(hourly rate of $400 to an attorney with 18 years'
experience in an individual FDCPA case that settled on the
eve of trial); see also Garcia v. Stanley, No.
14-cv-01806-BLF, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32550 (N.D. Cal. Mar.
7, 2017) (hourly rates of $500 and $400 for co-counsel who
had 19 and nine years' experience respectively in a
non-complex FDCPA/Rosenthal case).
court's research revealed the following additional cases:
Reenders v. Premier Recovery Grp., No.
18-cv-07761-PJH (JSC), 2019 WL 2583595 (N.D. Cal. May 7,
2019) (hourly rate of $225 to attorney with two years'
experience in a simple FDCPA case); Schuchardt v. Law
Office of Rory W. Clark, No. 15-cv-01329-JSC, 314 F.R.D.
673, 689 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 28, 2016) (hourly rate of $350 for a
senior associate and $400 for other experienced attorneys in
a FDCPA class action settlement); Evans v. Creditor's
Specialty Service, Inc., No. 15-cv-03355-BLF, 2016 WL
730277 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 24, 2016) (hourly rate of $320 for
attorney with almost 8 years' experience in a simple
FDCPA case); De Amaral v. Goldsmith & Hull, No.
12-cv-03580-WHO, 2014 WL 1309954 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 1, 2014)
(hourly rates of $450 and $350 to experienced FDCPA attorneys
in non-complex case where attorneys showed similar past
awards in the district).
these cases to this straightforward debt-collection case, the
court sets Mr. Trueblood's reasonable hourly rate at $475