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Brady v. Patenaude & Felix

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 25, 2019

FREDERICK MICHELE BRADY, Plaintiff,
v.
PATENAUDE & FELIX and MICHAEL R. BOULANGER, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES Re: Dkt. No. 28

          Nathanael M. Cousins United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff 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 and costs.

         I. Background

         Brady 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.

         II. Legal Standard

         If a 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).

         III. Discussion

         A. Hours Worked

         The 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).

         Plaintiffs 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.

         Defendants' 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.

         B. Hourly Rates

         A 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.

         Very 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 ...


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