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Paschen v. Southeastern Commercial Masonry, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 9, 2017


         SECTION "E" (3)



         Before the Court is F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen & Associates, L.L.C.'s Memorandum in Support of Attorneys' Fees [Doc. #72], which the District court referred to this Court for resolution.

         I. Background

         The underlying factual background of this dispute is irrelevant to the motion for attorneys' fees but outlined in detail in the District Court's bench opinion. F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen & Associates v. Southeastern Commercial Masonry, Inc., Civ. A. No. 12-2799, 2015 WL 7015389 (E.D. La. Nov. 12, 2015). In that opinion, the District Court awarded Paschen its attorneys' fees and costs "only insofar as this action was necessary to collect the payment made by Paschen to Tailored Foam." Id. at *27 (emphasis added).

         II. Law and Analysis

         Generally, the determination of reasonable attorneys' fees involves a two-step procedure. SeeHensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Initially, the district court must determine the reasonable number of hours expended on the litigation and the reasonable hourly rates for the participating lawyers. Id. Then, the district court must multiply the reasonable hours by the reasonable hourly rates. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888 (1984) (defining base fee to be product of reasonable hours and reasonable rate); Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433 (defining product of hours reasonably expended and reasonable hourly rates as "[t]he most useful starting point"); Brantley v. Surles, 804 F.2d 321, 325 (5th Cir. 1986) (stating hours multiplied by rate to be normal basis for fee). The product of this multiplication is the lodestar, which the district court then either accepts or adjusts upward or downward, depending on the circumstances of the case. Brantley, 804F.2dat325.

         Here, however, the Court finds itself in an unfortunate predicament. Paschen seeks $82, 207.00 in legal fees and $5, 680.78 in costs. In the alternative, Paschen seeks 50 per cent of the amount that it was charged, or $51, 725.00 and $5, 680.78 in costs. But the District Court only awarded Paschen its legal fees and costs associated with the collection of the payment by Paschen to Tailored Foam.

         The Fifth Circuit has made clear that

[t]he district court must determine whether the hours claimed were "reasonably expended on the litigation." Alberti v. Klevenhagen, 896 F.2d 927, 933-34 (5th Cir.), vacated on other grounds, 903 F.2d 352 (5th Cir. 1990); see also Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434, 103 S.Ct. at 1939 ("The district court also should exclude from this initial fee calculation hours that were not 'reasonably expended.'"). Moreover, "the fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates. The applicant.. . should maintain billing time records in a manner that will enable a reviewing court to identify distinct claims." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437, 103 S.Ct. at 1941; see also Bode, 919 F.2d at 1047 ("[T]he party seeking reimbursement of attorneys' fees . .. has the burden of establishing the number of attorney hours expended, and can meet that burden only by presenting evidence that is adequate for the court to determine what hours should be included in the reimbursement.").
Accordingly, the documentation must be sufficient for the court to verify that the applicant has met its burden. Id. "In determining the amount of an attorney fee award, courts customarily require the applicant to produce contemporaneous billing records or other sufficient documentation so that the district court can fulfill its duty to examine the application for noncompensable hours." Id.; see also Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 103 S.Ct. at 1939 ("The party seeking an award of fees should submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed."). Thus a district court may reduce the number of hours awarded if the documentation is vague or incomplete. See Alberti, 896 F.2d at 931 (refusing to accept incomplete documentation "at face value"); Leroy v. City of Houston (Leroy I), 831 F.2d 576, 585-86 (5th Cir.1987) (finding clear error and abuse of discretion when district court accepted "faulty records" without making reduction); cf. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 103 S.Ct. at 1939 (counseling that "[w]here the documentation of hours is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award accordingly").

La. Power & Light Co. v. Kellstrom, 50 F.3d 319, 324 (5th Cir. 1995) (emphasis in bold added). And the Supreme Court has clarified that

[t]he product of reasonable hours times a reasonable rate does not end the inquiry. There remain other considerations that may lead the district court to adjust the fee upward or downward, including the important factor of the "results obtained." This factor is particularly crucial where a plaintiff is deemed "prevailing" even though he succeeded on only some of his claims for relief. In this situation two questions must be addressed. First, did the plaintiff fail to prevail on claims that were unrelated to the claims on which he succeeded? Second, did the plaintiff achieve a level of success that makes the hours reasonably expended a satisfactory basis for making a fee award?
In some cases a plaintiff may present in one lawsuit distinctly different claims for relief that are based on different facts and legal theories. In such a suit, even where the claims are brought against the same defendants - often an institution and its officers, as in this case - counsel's work on one claim will be unrelated to his work on another claim. Accordingly, work on an unsuccessful claim cannot be deemed to have been "expended in pursuit of the ultimate result achieved." Davis v. County of Los Angeles, 8 E.P.D. ΒΆ 9444, at 5049 (CD Cal. 1974). The congressional intent to limit awards to prevailing parties requires that ...

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