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Miller v. Lenard Enterprises, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

December 9, 2019





         Before the court is a Memorandum in Support of Request for Attorney's Fees [doc. 29] filed by plaintiff Trey L. Miller, following this court's award of summary judgment on his Fair Labor Standards Act suit. Defendant Lenard Enterprises, LLC has filed no response and its time for doing so has passed.



         Plaintiff brought suit in this court against defendant, his former employer, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. He alleged that he was a non-exempt employee and was owed overtime compensation during the time he was employed by defendant, from March 2015 to May 2017. Doc. 1. On plaintiff's unopposed motion for summary judgment[1], this court found that defendant had violated the FLSA and that plaintiff was entitled to unpaid overtime wages and liquidated damages in a total amount of $94, 108.12. Docs. 27, 28.

         Along with his motion for summary judgment plaintiff also requested an award of costs and attorney fees under the FLSA. He supported this request with an invoice from his attorney. The court held that plaintiff was entitled to such an award, but that the proper amount could not be determined on the evidence submitted. Accordingly, it ordered supplemental briefing from plaintiff and allowed additional time for defendant to file a response. Plaintiff has submitted his briefing, but the court has received no response. Plaintiff's contentions are thus regarded as unopposed.


         Law & Application

         The FLSA provides that the court “shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff . . ., allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (emphasis added). Courts use the lodestar method to calculate such an award, multiplying the number of hours an attorney reasonably spent on the case by an appropriate hourly rate based on the market for that work in the community. Smith & Fuller, P.A. v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., 685 F.3d 486, 490 (5th Cir. 2012). The lodestar is presumptively reasonable but may be adjusted due to one or more of the twelve factors set out in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974). Black v. SettlePou P.C., 732 F.3d 492, 502 (5th Cir. 2013). Accordingly, the court first determines the appropriate lodestar and then whether a departure is warranted.

         A. Lodestar Calculation

         1. Hourly rate

         As indicated above, the first step in ascertaining the lodestar is determining counsel's reasonable hourly rate. This rate is the market rate for similar services by similarly trained and experienced attorneys in the relevant legal community. Tollett v. City of Kemah, 285 F.3d 357, 368 (5th Cir. 2002). The relevant legal community is generally the judicial district where the case is tried[2] - here, the Western District of Louisiana - rather than the particular division. Comar Marine Corp. v. Raider Marine Logistics, LLC, 2016 WL 99208, at *4 (W.D. La. Jan. 7, 2016). “An attorney's requested hourly rate is prima facie reasonable when he requests that the lodestar be computed at his or her customary billing rate, the rate is within the range of prevailing market rates, and the rate is not contested.” Pickney v. Strategic Restaurant Acquisition Co., LLC, 2017 WL 1821125, at *2 (W.D. La. May 4, 2017) (citing La. Power & Light Co. v. Kellstrom, 50 F.3d 319, 328 (5th Cir. 1995)). The reasonable hourly rate for a community may be established based on the affidavits of other attorneys practicing there. Id. (citing Thompson v. Connick, 553 F.3d 836, 867-68 (5th Cir. 2008)).

         Plaintiff's counsel is James Sudduth, an attorney who specializes in employment law and practices in this district. For the purposes of this request, Mr. Sudduth bills himself at a rate of $250/hour, associate attorneys Kourtney Kech and Erin Abrams at a rate of $200/hour, and paralegals and law clerks at a rate of $125/hour. Mr. Sudduth avers that the regular rates for these individuals are $350/hour, $250/hour, and $150/hour, respectively, but that he has voluntarily reduced their rates after consultation with other attorneys on prevailing rates in the community. Doc. 29, att. 4. He provides affidavits from local attorneys Scott Scofield and James R. Morris, who attest to Mr. Sudduth's ability and the reasonableness of the reduced rates. Doc. 30; doc. 29, att. 2. Mr. Scofield, however, expresses that the rates are on the “upper end of reasonable.” Doc. 30, ¶ 7. This court has typically applied lower rates for paralegals. See, e.g., Fontenot v. Safety Council of Southwest La., 2018 WL 4326477, at *6 (W.D. La. Sep. 10, 2018) (noting an average hourly rate of $96.50 for paralegals in Southwest Louisiana, with a range of $75 to $100 per hour); Latiolais v. Griffith, 2015 WL 4253976, at *5 (W.D. La. Jul. 13, 2015) (reducing paralegal rate from $85/hour to $65/hour). A rate of $125 to $130/hour has been approved, however, where the fee-seeking party produces ...

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