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Total Rebuild Inc v. PHC Fluid Power LLC

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

March 23, 2017

Total Rebuild, Inc.
v.
PHC Fluid Power, LLC

          Rebecca F. Doherty Judge

          MEMORANDUM RULING AND ORDER

          CAROL B. WHITEHURST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is an affidavit in support of requested attorneys' fees, filed by Defendant PHC Fluid Power, LLC (“PHC”). (Doc. 98.) After granting in part and denying in part PHC's motion to compel filed against Plaintiff Total Rebuild, Inc. (“Total”), the undersigned directed PHC to provide the Court with an affidavit setting forth its attorneys' fees and expenses incurred in preparing and submitting its Motion to Compel Discovery Responses. (Doc. 97.)

         In compliance with the Court's directive, PHC has submitted the Affidavit of Nicholas R. Valenti, along with supporting documentation of the schedule of time spent by various attorneys who performed work relating to PHC's Motion to Compel. (Doc. 98-1.) Review of the affidavit reveals that PHC seeks a total award of $33, 025.50 in attorneys' fees for Samuel Miller, Warner J. Delaune, and Nicholas R. Valenti, and an individual identified as Mrs. Woodhouse. (Doc. 98-1 at ¶¶ 4-7, 13.)

         Analysis

         In the Fifth Circuit, the “lodestar” method is used to calculate reasonable attorney fees. In re Fender, 12 F.3d 480, 487 (5th Cir. 1994). Under the “lodestar” analysis, a two-step procedure is used. Louisiana Power & Light Company v. Kellstrom, 50 F.3d 319, 324 (5th Cir. 1995). The court determines the reasonable number of hours expended on the litigation and the reasonable hourly rates for the participating lawyers, Id., then multiplies the reasonable hours by the reasonable hourly rates. The product is the lodestar, which the district court then either accepts or adjusts upward or downward, depending on the circumstances of the case assessing twelve relevant factors. In re Fender, 12 F.3d at 487. The twelve factors are: (1) the time and labor involved; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal services properly; (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorneys due to this case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of counsel; (10) the undesirability of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

         The Supreme Court has barred the use of the sixth factor - whether the fee is fixed or contingent, Walker v. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 99 F.3d 761, 771-72 (5th Cir. 1996), citing City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 567 (1992) - and has greatly limited the use of the second, third, eighth, and ninth factors, holding that the novelty and complexity of the issues, the special skill and experience of counsel, the quality of representation, and the results obtained from the litigation are presumably reflected in the lodestar amount, and thus cannot serve as independent bases for increasing the basic fee award. Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986). “[E]nhancements based upon these factors are only appropriate in rare cases supported by specific evidence in the record and detailed findings by the courts.” Walker, 99 F.3d at 771-72.

         The fee applicant bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of the number of hours expended on its prevailing claim. Leroy v. City of Houston, 906 F.2d 1068, 1079 (5th Cir. 1990). An applicant does not have the right to bill for time on issues on which he did not prevail. Walker, 99 F.3d at 769. The applicant must also submit adequately-documented time records to the court. Watkins v. Fordice, 7 F.3d 453, 457 (5th Cir. 1993). Using the time records as a benchmark, the court should exclude all time that is excessive, duplicative, or inadequately documented. Id. Hours that result from the case being overstaffed and hours that, although actually expended, are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, should be excluded from the calculation. Leroy, 906 F.2d at 1079. For example, the time of two or three attorneys in a courtroom or conference when one would do may be discounted. Finally, a district court also may reduce the number of hours awarded if the documentation is vague or incomplete. Louisiana Power & Light Co., 50 F.3d at 324.

         In this case, PHC seeks a total award of $33, 025.50 in attorneys' fees, which breaks down as follows:

(1)
Miller
(a) 2016 - .01 hours at $405/hour = $40.50.
(b) 2017 - 4.5 hours at $415/hour = $1, 867.50
(2)
Delaune
(a) 2016 - 4.6 hours at $405/hour = $1, 863
(b) 2017 - 24.2 hours at $415/hour = $10, 043
(3)
Valenti
(a) 2016 - 10.4 hours at $260/hour = $2, 704
(b) 2017 - 58.9 hours at $275/hour = $16, 197.50
(4)
Woodhouse
2017 - 1 hour at $310/hour = $310

         (Doc. 98 at 1 at ¶ 13.) In support of the attorneys' fee request, Valenti has attached to his affidavit a detailed schedule of hours and fees for the work performed in preparing and submitting the Motion to Compel. The attachment details work performed by Valenti, Miller, Delaune, and Woodhouse.[1] Valenti states that “[o]nly time expended on activities relating to the Motion to Compel is included in the total fees requested.” (Doc. 98-1 at ¶ 9.)

         Review of the detailed billing summaries provided by Valenti leads the undersigned to conclude that the total requested hours for the work performed are excessive and that some of the work is duplicative. The summary of fees depicts three skilled attorneys in intellectual property issues working extensive hours in connection with this discovery matter. Many entries, however, list excessive amounts of hours spent by all three attorneys in the researching, reviewing, conferring amongst themselves, and drafting of the Motion to Compel and related reply brief. The entries also reflect instances of duplicative work by these attorneys. It is also important to note that PHC did not prevail as to all aspects of the Motion to Compel. The Court, therefore, finds it appropriate to reduce each of the attorney's hours by 40% to reflect a reasonable amount of hours worked on this discovery matter. Accordingly, the Court will reduce each attorney's bill for hours worked by 40% as follows:

(1)
Miller
(a) 2016 - .01 hours to .0060 hours.
(b) 2017 - 4.5 hours 2.7 hours
(2)
Delaune
(a) 2016 - 4.6 hours 2.76 hours
(b) 2017 - 24.2 hours to 14.52 hours
(3)
Valenti
(a) 2016 - 10.4 hours to 6.24 hours
(b) 2017 - 58.9 hours 35.34 hours
(4)
Woodhouse
(a) 2017 - 1 hour to .60 hours

         Next, reasonable hourly rates for the PHC's attorneys must be determined. Attorneys' fees are to be calculated at the “prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984). A reasonable rate is the market rate. The “relevant community” for the purpose of awarding attorney fees is the judicial district in which the litigation ...


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