United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES Re: Dkt. No.
Nathanael M. Cousins United States Magistrate Judge.
Frederick Michele Brady prevailed in this Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act case and is entitled to
attorneys' fees under 15 U.S.C. § 1692. Brady
accepted defendants' $2, 001.00 offer of judgment under
Rule 68 but the parties have since failed to reach an
agreement as to a reasonable amount of attorney's fees.
Dkt. Nos. 25, 26, 28. Plaintiffs request a total of $20,
330.05 in costs and fees, including time spent on briefing
this issue, and defendants argue that $6, 202.50 is the
reasonable amount. Dkt. Nos. 28, 30, 31. The Court FINDS that
plaintiff's counsels' total time spent on this case
was reasonable but that the hourly rate requested for
Brady's attorneys is not reasonable relative to
prevailing market rates. The Court therefore awards
plaintiff's counsel $14, 765.05 in attorneys' fees
filed his complaint in December 2018. Dkt. No. 1. Brady also
filed a complaint in state court against the same defendants.
Dkt. No. 30 at 1. Defendants filed their answer in this case
in April 2019. Dkt. No. 11. Brady amended his complaint, due
to inadvertently omitting information in the original, and
defendants answered the amended complaint. Dkt. Nos. 15, 18.
The parties engaged in some discovery. In July 2019, Brady
accepted the defendants' $2, 001.00 offer of judgment
pursuant to Rule 68. Dkt. No. 25. Plaintiff requests a total
of $20, 330.05 in costs and fees. Dkt. Nos. 28, 31. This sum
consists of 23.4 hours worked by attorney Fred W. Schwinn at
a rate of $650 per hour (totaling $15, 210) and 8.4 hours
worked by attorney Raeon R. Roulston at a rate of $550 per
hour (totaling $4, 620), plus $500.05 in costs. Id.
debt collector violates the FDCPA or Rosenthal Act, it is
liable for costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. 15
U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3); Cal. Civ. Code §§
1788.17, 178830(c). Whether attorneys' fees are
reasonable is determined by the “lodestar”
method, which is calculated by multiplying the number of
hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate.
City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 559
(1992); Chavez v. City of Los Angeles, 47 Cal.4th
970, 985 (2010).
fee-seeking party has the initial burden to show that the
hours expended on the case were reasonable, using time
records documenting what tasks were completed. Hensley v.
Eckhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983); Welch v.
Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 480 F.3d 942, 945-46 (9th
Cir. 2017). The opposing party then has the burden of
challenging the hours charged by specifically identifying
defects in the requested hours; conclusory or unsubstantiated
objections to the hours charged are insufficient. Cancio
v. Fin. Credit Network, Inc., Case No. 04-cv-03744-THE,
2005 WL 1629808, at *3 (N.D. Cal. July 6, 2005). The Court
also conducts an independent review of the hours expended for
reasonableness. McGrath v. County of Nevada, 67 F.3d
248, n.5 (9th Cir. 1995).
counsel submitted billing records accounting for a total of
31.8 hours worked on this case, 23.4 by attorney Schwinn and
8.4 by attorney Roulston. Defendants argue that this number
of hours is unreasonable and excessive. Dkt. No. 30.
Defendants point to other cases involving default judgments,
arguing that the amount of work performed in those cases is
similar to that performed here (essentially, a complaint and
motion for fees). Id. at 15. Defendants cite to
cases involving the same plaintiffs counsel that resulted in
default judgments and that awarded fees for between 9.5 and
15.4 hours of work, suggesting that “the appropriate
hours should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 9.5 hours to
15.4 hours, plus an additional hour to prepare cookie cutter
discovery requests.” Id. at 16.
argument fails to meet the standard for contesting plaintiffs
counsels' time spent on this case. Defendants do not
specifically identify any inaccurate, duplicative, or
excessive entries in plaintiffs counsels' billing
records. Instead, defendants offer a “conclusory”
objection to the total sum of hours. Cancio, 2005 WL
1629808, at *3. The Court's independent review reveals no
duplicative or otherwise excessive billing entries.
Therefore, the Court FINDS that plaintiffs counsels' time
spent on this case- 23.4 hours by attorney Schwinn and 8.4 by
attorney Roulston-was reasonable.
reasonable hourly rate is based on the “experience,
skill, and reputation of the attorney requesting fees,
” in the context of “the rate prevailing in the
community for similar work performed by attorneys of
comparable skill, experience, and reputation.”
Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205,
1210-11 (9th Cir. 1986). The burden is on the fee applicant
to show that fees are in line with prevailing market rates.
Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984);
United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp.,
896 F.2d 403, 407 (9th Cir. 1990). Here, attorney Schwinn
(with over 22 years of experience) requests $650 per hour and
attorney Roulston (with over 12 years of experience) requests
$550 per hour. Dkt. No. 28 at 11.
recently, a court in this District surveyed market rates for
plaintiffs' counsel in FDCPA cases. Bidwal v. Unifund
CCR Partners, Case No. 17-cv-02699-LB, 2019 WL 4039955
(N.D. Cal. Aug. 27, 2019). This survey included local
practitioners with similar years of experience in FDCPA
litigation to counsel here. Id. at *4-6. The court
there concluded that $475 per hour was a reasonable market
rate for a plaintiffs attorney with 28 years of experience,
and $375 per hour was a reasonable market rate for a
plaintiffs attorney with under 20 years of experience.
Id. at *8. The Bidwal case, like this one,
involved a complaint and one amended complaint, but
additionally included a status conference, mediation, and
written discovery. Id. at *1-3. The ...