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Precision IBC, Inc. v. Phoenix Chemical Technologies, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

April 19, 2017

PRECISION IBC, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
PHOENIX CHEMICAL TECHNOLOGIES, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. CASSADY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the undersigned on Plaintiff Precision IBC, Inc.'s, (“Precision”) Request for and Submission in Support of Attorney's Fees and Expenses (“Request for Attorney's Fees”), (Doc. 52), filed on February 2, 2017, and Notice Regarding Supplement to Request for Attorney's Fees and Expenses, (Doc. 59), filed on March 29, 2017. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 32 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States magistrate judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including the trial, order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). Following a review of the foregoing pleadings, with attachments, as well as all other relevant pleadings in this matter, the Court GRANTS IN PART Plaintiff's Request for Attorney's Fees, (Doc. 52), as more fully explained hereinafter.

         BACKGROUND

         The complaint, (Doc. 1), in this matter was originally filed in this Court on December 16, 2015, invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction[1] and then was assigned to the undersigned, (Doc. 2). On December 27, 2016, Plaintiff Precision filed its Motion for Summary Judgment and Supporting Brief, (Doc. 45), which the Court granted on March 28, 2017, (Doc. 58). Plaintiff Precision filed its instant motion, (Doc. 52), on February 2, 2017. Defendant Phoenix Chemical Technologies, LLC, (“Phoenix”) has not filed a response in opposition to Plaintiff Precision's Request for Attorney's Fees. (See Docket Sheet).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff Precision seeks $33, 236.50 in attorney's fees and expenses, (Doc. 52, at 1), which consists of 129.2 hours of attorney time at a rate of $230.00 per hour, 16.3 hours of paralegal time at a rate of $125.00 per hour, purchase of a transcript, postage, and online research fees. (Doc. 52, at ¶¶ 2-4). Plaintiff Precision's “Equipment Rental Agreement, ” (Doc. 1-1), signed by Defendant Phoenix, states: “Attorney's Fees. In the event that Lessor takes action to exercise any right or remedy under this Agreement or to enforce any provision of this Agreement, or if Lessor successfully defends any action brought by Lessee against it, Lessee will pay all costs and expenses of such action or such defense incurred by Lessor, including, without limitation, reasonable attorneys' fees and costs of litigation, ” (Doc. 1-1, ¶ 22(e)).

         In her affidavit, Attorney Anne Laurie McClurkin, counsel for Plaintiff Precision, asserts on behalf of her and Anna Bush, the paralegal assigned to this matter, the number of hours expended and hourly rates charged were reasonable. (Doc. 52, ¶¶ 2-4 & 6). “Alabama follows the American rule, whereby attorney fees may be recovered if they are provided for by statute or by contract . . . .” Jones v. Regions Bank, 25 So.3d 427, 441 (Ala. 2009) (citations omitted). The law is clear that “provisions regarding reasonable attorney's fees are terms of the contracts susceptible to breach.” Army Aviation Ctr. Fed. Credit Union v. Poston, 460 So.2d 139, 141 (Ala. 1984); see also Ierna v. Arthur Murray Int'l, Inc., 833 F.2d 1472, 1476 (11th Cir. 1987) (“When the parties contractually provide for attorneys' fees, the award is an integral part of the merits of the case.”). Under Alabama law, such attorney's fees are recoverable; however, recovery is subject to Alabama's imposition of a reasonableness constraint on all fee shifting contracts, as a mater of public policy. See, e.g., Willow Lake Residential Ass'n, Inc. v. Juliano, 80 So.3d 226, 241 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010) (“Alabama law reads into every agreement allowing for the recovery of attorney's fees a reasonableness limitation.”); PNCEF, LLC v. Hendricks Bldg. Supply LLC, 740 F.Supp.2d 1287, 1294 (S.D. Ala. 2010) (rejecting claim for attorney's fees in amount of 15% of fund to be collected, where plaintiff made no showing of its actual attorney's fee incurred in enforcing contract). Thus, Plaintiff Precision is entitled to recover only its reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred in collecting the debt.

         The calculation of reasonable attorney's fees is within the sound discretion of the court. Dowdell v. City of Apopka, Fla., 698 F.2d 1181, 1187 (11th Cir. 1983); Kiker v. Probate Court of Mobile Cty., 67 So.3d 865, 867 (Ala. 2010). Over thirty years ago, the Supreme Court indicated “‘the most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.'” Watford v. Heckler, 765 F.2d 1562, 1568 (11th Cir. 1985) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1939, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983)). “The first step in calculating a reasonable attorney's fee award is to determine the ‘lodestar'-the product of multiplying reasonable hours expended times a reasonable hourly rate.” Martinez v. Hernando Cty. Sheriff's Office, 579 F. App'x 710, 713 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Am. Civil Liberties Union of Ga. v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 427 (11th Cir. 1999)); see also Bivins v. Wrap It Up, Inc., 548 F.3d 1348, 1350 (11th Cir. 2008) (“The product of these two figures is the lodestar and there is a ‘strong presumption' that the lodestar is the reasonable sum the attorneys deserve.”). The party moving for fees bears the burden of establishing the “reasonableness” of the hourly rate and number of hours expended via specific evidence supporting the hours and rates claimed. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Barnes, 168 F.3d at 427. The court may utilize its own “knowledge and expertise” to come to an independent judgment regarding the reasonableness of requested attorney's fees. Loranger v. Stierheim, 10 F.3d 776, 781 (11th Cir. 1994).

         When seeking attorney's fees, the prevailing party must not request fees for hours that are “excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, ” or request fees for unsuccessful claims. Hensley, 61 U.S. at 434-35. When a request for attorney's fees is unreasonably high, the court may “conduct an hour-by-hour analysis or it may reduce the requested hours with an across-the-board cut.” Bivins, 548 F.3d at 1350. Likewise, where the rates or hours claimed seem excessive or lack the appropriate documentation, a court may calculate the award based on its own experience, knowledge, and observations. See, e.g., Norman v. Hous. Auth. of the City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1299 (11th Cir. 1988). Notably, “[t]he court, either trial or appellate, is itself an expert on the question and may consider its own knowledge and experience concerning reasonableness and proper fees and may form an independent judgment with or without the aid of witnesses.” Id. at 1303 (citations omitted)

         The lodestar figure established by the Court may be adjusted in consideration of various factors that include:

(1) the nature and value of the subject matter of the employment; (2) the learning, skill, and labor requisite to its proper discharge; (3) the time consumed; (4) the professional experience and reputation of the attorney; (5) the weight of his responsibilities; (6) the measure of success achieved; (7) the reasonable expenses incurred; (8) whether a fee is fixed or contingent; (9) the nature and length of a professional relationship; (10) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; (11) the likelihood that a particular employment may preclude other employment; and (12) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances.

Van Schaack v. AmSouth Bank, N.A., 530 So.2d 740, 749 (Ala. 1988); see also, e.g., Pharmacia Corp v. McGowan, 915 So.2d 549, 552-554 (Ala. 2004); Lolley v. Citizens Bank, 494 So.2d 19 (Ala. 1986). These factors are not an exhaustive list of specific criteria that must all be met. Beal Bank, SSB v. Schilleci, 896 So.2d 395, 403 (Ala. 2004).

         In determining the proper lodestar in this case, the undersigned first considers what hourly rates are reasonable and then what hours were reasonably expended in pursuing this matter. In so doing, the Court keeps in mind that “the fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437, 103 S.Ct. at 1941.

         I. Reasonabl ...


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