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Blackwater Diving, LLC v. Monforte Exploration, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 16, 2015

BLACKWATER DIVING, LLC
v.
MONFORTE EXPLORATION, LLC, SECTION:

ORDER AND REASONS

JAY C. ZAINEY, District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs (Rec. Doc. 30) filed by the plaintiff Blackwater Diving, LLC. Defendant Monforte Exploration, LLC opposes the motion. The motion, noticed for submission on July 15, 2015, is before the Court on the briefs without oral argument.

On January 13, 2015, plaintiff Blackwater Diving, LLC filed this lawsuit against defendant Monforte Exploration, LLC for payment owed on an outstanding invoice. Blackwater provides commercial diving services to the oil and gas industry. Monforte is an oil and gas drilling exploration company. Blackwater alleges that Monforte owes $169, 560.83 on open account and additionally relies on the legal theories of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and detrimental reliance. (Complaint, Rec. Doc. 1).

The two principals of the plaintiff and defendant companies attempted to negotiate a settlement of the case on their own with participation from Blackwater's counsel. On April 16, 2015, the Court denied Blackwater's motion to enforce a settlement agreement in light of the lack of a requisite writing under Louisiana law. (Rec. Doc. 18). Blackwater Diving later moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability and damages as to the outstanding balance of its invoice 14221 ($144, 560.83). (Rec. Doc. 19-4; Bronner Affidavit ¶ 14). The Court ruled in Blackwater Diving's favor and held that Blackwater Diving's claim for payment falls within Louisiana's open account statute, which implicates an award of reasonable attorney's fees. (Rec. Doc. 28).

Blackwater Diving has now filed its motion for attorney's fees. Blackwater's counsel seeks $18, 317.00 in attorney's fees.[1] Defendant challenges the award as to reasonableness.[2]

Louisiana's open account statute, La. R.S. § 9:2781, provides for an award of reasonable attorney's fees for the prosecution and collection of a claim when judgment on the claim is rendered in favor of the claimant. La. R.S. § 9:2781(A). An award of attorney's fees under this statute is exceptional and penal in nature so its application must be strictly construed. Frank L. Beier Radio, Inc. v. Black Gold Marine, Inc., 449 So.2d 1014, 1016 (La. 1984). The quantum of fees awarded under § 2781 is left to the sound discretion of the district court. Metro. Reporters, Inc. v. Avery, 665 So.2d 547, 550 (La.App. 5th Cir. 1995). Some of the factors that guide the court's discretion are the ultimate result obtained, the amount involved, the extent and character of labor performed, the legal knowledge, skill, and diligence of counsel, the number of appearances made, the intricacies of the facts and law involved, and the court's own knowledge. Id. (citing S. Jackson & Son, Inc. v. Aljoma Lumber, Inc., 637 So.2d 1311 (La.App. 4th Cir. 1994); Julius Cohen Jeweler, Inc. v. Succession of Jumonville, 506 So.2d 535 (La.App. 1st Cir. 1987)).

The Court is assisted in its determination by the itemized billing statements of lead attorney R. Joshua Koch, Jr. and associate attorney Caitlin Morgenstern. Mr. Koch has over 35 years of litigation experience and an impressive resume. Mr. Koch has been admitted to practice in the Eastern District of Louisiana since 1978, and he was responsible for overseeing this litigation. The Court is persuaded that Mr. Koch's requested hourly rate of $280 is reasonable in light of his background and experience. Ms. Morgenstern graduated from law school in 2011 and was admitted to practice in the Eastern District of Louisiana in 2013. The Court is persuaded that $150 per hour is a more reasonable hourly rate in this region in light of Ms. Morgenstern's experience.

Mr. Koch billed 28.1 hours and Ms. Morgenstern billed 58.05 hours, including the time spent on this motion for attorney's fees.[3] The Court is persuaded that this case did not require nearly this much attorney time. While counsel obtained a favorable judgment for their client, this case presented a simple collection matter on an unpaid invoice that the defendant essentially admitted that he owed. Neither attorney was required to make appearances in court. The time sheets suggest some duplication of effort and redundancy of attorney time, and while this might be a result of having an experienced attorney oversee the work of an associate, it remains that there was nothing complicated or intricate about the facts or law in this case. The Court will reduce Mr. Koch's recoverable hours to 15 and Ms. Morgenstern's hours will be reduced to 35 hours.[4] The attorney fee award calculates to (15 x $280) (35 × $150) = $9, 450.00.

Accordingly, and for the foregoing reasons;

IT IS ORDERED that the Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs (Rec. Doc. 30) filed by the plaintiff Blackwater Diving, LLC. is GRANTED as explained above.


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