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Dugas v. Mercedes-Benz Usa, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

March 16, 2015

MARIE DUGAS and KRYSTAL DORSEY
v.
MERCEDES-BENZ USA, LLC ET AL

ORDER

PATRICK J. HANNA, Magistrate Judge.

Currently pending is the plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees. (Rec. Doc. 132). After reviewing the arguments presented, the applicable law, and the supporting documentation, and for the reasons explained below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

On August 5, 2014, the undersigned ruled on two motions to compel (Rec. Doc. 102 and 111) that were filed by the plaintiffs, Marie Dugas and Krystal Dorsey. (Rec. Doc. 123). In addition to granting the motions, the undersigned ordered defendant Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC ("MBUSA") to reimburse the plaintiffs for the reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred in bringing the motions and the reasonable attorneys' fees and costs to be incurred by the plaintiffs in attending the additional corporate deposition permitted by the order. (Rec. Doc. 123 at 16, 17). The plaintiffs were ordered to file a motion for reimbursement of fees and costs with supporting affidavits, the defendant was afforded an opportunity to respond, and the motion was to be decided in due course without oral argument. (Rec. Doc. 123 at 16-17). The plaintiffs complied with the order, and filed an appropriate motion. (Rec. Doc. 132). MBUSA filed an opposition to the motion (Rec. Doc. 139) and also filed an appeal of the undersigned's ruling to the District Judge. (Rec. Doc. 138). The appeal was considered, and the undersigned's ruling was affirmed. (Rec. Doc. 167). Accordingly, the plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and costs is now ready for resolution.

ANALYSIS

The plaintiffs' counsel contends that he is entitled to be reimbursed the sum of $4, 275.00 for his work on the motions to compel, calculated on the basis of 9.5 hours of work at the rate of $450 per hour. MBUSA argues that both the hourly rate and number of hours expended are unreasonable.

This Court's subject-matter jurisdiction over this action is derived from a federal statute, the Class Action Fairness Act, but the substantive issues presented in the lawsuit arise solely under Louisiana law, and Louisiana law will be applied in this case. The Fifth Circuit has held that when state law provides the rule of decision for the substantive issues in a case, state law also controls both the award of, and the reasonableness of, attorney's fees.[1] Accordingly, when Louisiana law applies, the amount of an attorneys' fee award is governed by Rule 1.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct[2] promulgated by the Louisiana State Bar Association.

Under Rule 1.5, the factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following: (a) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer; (3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; (4) the amount involved and the results obtained; (5) the time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; (7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer performing the services; and (8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent.[3] These factors are very similar to those used in the "lodestar" method recognized by the Fifth Circuit in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc . [4] In fact, the undersigned finds that, in this case, an evaluation under Rule 1.5 would yield the same result as would an evaluation under the lodestar method. Accordingly, the lodestar method will be employed.

Under the lodestar method, the determination of reasonable attorneys' fees involves a two-step procedure. Initially, the district court must determine the reasonable number of hours expended on the task at issue and the reasonable hourly rates for the participating lawyers. Then, the district court must multiply the reasonable hours by reasonable hourly rates. The product of this multiplication is the lodestar, which the court then either accepts or adjusts upward or downward, depending on the circumstances of the case, after assessing a dozen factors set forth in the Johnson case.[5] The Johnson factors are: (1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the issues; (3) the skill required to perform the legal services properly; (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount involved and 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) the award in similar cases.[6] Three of the Johnson factors - the complexity of the issues, the results obtained, and the preclusion of other employment - are fully reflected and subsumed in the lodestar amount.[7] The "Supreme Court has barred any use of the sixth factor, " i.e., whether the fee is fixed or contingent.[8] Additionally, "the court should give special heed to the time and labor involved, the customary fee, the amount involved and the result obtained, and the experience, reputation and ability of counsel."[9]

Ultimately, however, a district court has discretion to fashion a reasonable attorneys' fee.[10] When determining a reasonable fee, the court must provide a concise but clear explanation of its reasons for the fee award, making subsidiary factual determinations regarding whether the requested hourly rate is reasonable, and whether the tasks reported by counsel were duplicative, unnecessary, or unrelated to the purposes of the lawsuit.[11] The Fifth Circuit has noted that its "concern is not that a complete litany be given, but that the findings be complete enough to assume a review which can determine whether the court has used proper factual criteria in exercising its discretion to fix just compensation."[12]

REASONABLE HOURS EXPENDED

The burden of proving the reasonableness of the hours expended is on the party seeking to recover attorneys' fees.[13] In determining the number of hours billed for purposes of calculating the lodestar, the Court must determine whether the requested hours expended by counsel were reasonable in light of the facts of the case and the work performed.[14] A determination must also be made concerning whether the records submitted show that the movant's counsel exercised sound billing judgment by excluding unproductive, excessive, or redundant hours when seeking the fee award.[15] Thus, all time billed for work that is excessive, duplicative, or inadequately documented should be excluded from consideration.[16]

In this case, the plaintiffs argue that their counsel should be reimbursed for 9.5 hours spent drafting, filing, and arguing the motions to compel. MBUSA argues, however, that this request is unreasonable because some of the time was excessive or unnecessary, the plaintiffs' counsel's time was inadequately documented, some of the time was actually clerical in nature, and full travel time should not be compensated.

After carefully evaluating the affidavit submitted by the plaintiffs' counsel, J.R. Whaley, concerning the time expended with regard to the motions to compel, the ...


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