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Parker v. Healthcare Investment Group Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

September 21, 2017

PHILLIP JASON PARKER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HEALTHCARE INVESTMENT GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         This case arises under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The Court approved the settlement of Plaintiffs' underlying FLSA overtime and willfulness claims on October 26, 2016. (Doc. 93). Still remaining for the Court to resolve are Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Expenses (doc. 96) (the “Fee Motion”) and Defendants' Motion To Strike (doc. 102) (the “Strike Motion”). The parties have filed their supporting and opposing materials. (Docs. 97-98, 101, 104). For the reasons stated below, the Fee Motion is GRANTED as modified herein and the Strike Motion is DENIED.

         II. Plaintiffs' Fee Motion

         Fee Motion Background

         Plaintiffs Philip Jason Parker, Carolyn England, Buffy R. Dulaney, William D. McGee, Maisie Slaughter, and Carrie Hannah Borden (the “Named Plaintiffs”) initiated this action against Defendants on November 20, 2014. (Doc. 1). On December 30, 2014, the Named Plaintiffs filed an Amended Collective Action Complaint (doc. 9) that asserted overtime as well as uncompensated-time violations of the FLSA. (See generally id.). The Named Plaintiffs further alleged that Defendants engaged in retaliatory conduct against them and that their FLSA violations were willful. Id.

         On May 6, 2015, the Court granted the Named Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification. (Doc. 37). Over the course of the litigation, an additional 27 Plaintiffs consented to joining the case and, at the highest level, counsel were representing a total of 33 Plaintiffs. On October 20, 2015, the parties engaged in mediation, but were unsuccessful in reaching a resolution of the litigation at that time. (Doc. 68).

         Subsequently, however, the parties reached a good-faith compromise and presented it to the Court. As set out in the Order Approving FLSA Settlement, judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiffs “in the amount of $208, 328.50, plus reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses in an amount to be determined by the Court . . . .” (Doc. 93 at 2). Under the terms of the parties' settlement, this payment to Plaintiffs represents “full relief of recorded unpaid overtime compensation and liquidated damages for same to which they are entitled.” (Doc. 90 at 3).

         In their Fee Motion, Plaintiffs are seeking $344, 501.81 in attorneys' fees (doc. 96 at 4 ¶ 9) and $15, 498.19 in expenses (id. ¶ 8) for a total amount of $360, 000.00. (Doc. 96 at 5 ¶ 11). “[T]he starting point in any determination for an objective estimate of the value of a lawyer's services is to multiply hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. Norman v. Housing Authority of City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1299 (11th Cir. 1988).[1] Plaintiffs bear the burden of “establishing entitlement and documenting the appropriate hours and hourly rates.” Norman, 836 F.2d at 1303. Concerning the reasonableness of a lawyer's hourly rate, the Eleventh Circuit has explained:

A reasonable hourly rate is the prevailing market rate in the relevant legal community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skills, experience, and reputation. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. at 895-96 n.11, 104 S.Ct. at 1547 n.11. Accord, Gaines v. Dougherty County Board of Education, 775 F.2d 1565, 1571 (11th Cir. 1985). The applicant bears the burden of producing satisfactory evidence that the requested rate is in line with prevailing market rates. NAACP v. City of Evergreen, 812 F.2d at 1338. Satisfactory evidence at a minimum is more than the affidavit of the attorney performing the work. Blum, 465 U.S. at 896 n.11, 104 S.Ct. at 1547 n.11. It should also be noted that in line with the goal of obtaining objectivity, satisfactory evidence necessarily must speak to rates actually billed and paid in similar lawsuits. Testimony that a given fee is reasonable is therefore unsatisfactory evidence of market rate. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 439 n.15, 103 S.Ct. at 1943 n.15. Evidence of rates may be adduced through direct evidence of charges by lawyers under similar circumstances or by opinion evidence. The weight to be given to opinion evidence of course will be affected by the detail contained in the testimony on matters such as similarity of skill, reputation, experience, similarity of case and client, and breadth of the sample of which the expert has knowledge.

Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299 (emphasis added).

         Plaintiffs' fee calculation consists of attorney time and paralegal time from two separate law firms-Wiggins Childs (“WC”) (formerly known as Wiggins Childs Quinn & Pantazis, LLC) (doc. 96-1 at 4 ¶ 4)[2] and Guin, Stokes & Evans (“GSE”). (Id. at 5 ¶ 5). The hourly rates proposed by Plaintiffs for approval are:

          • $450 for WC Attorney Rocco Calamusa, Jr. (“Mr. Calamusa”);

         • $400 for WC Attorney Kevin Jent (“Mr. Jent”);

         • $125 for WC Paralegal Karen Allen (“Ms. Allen”);

          • $125 for WC Paralegal Traci Wiggins (“Ms. Wiggins”);

          • $425 for GSE Attorney Dawn Evans (“Ms. Evans”);

          • $400 for GSE Attorney Rex Slate (“Mr. Slate”); and

          • $175 for GSE Paralegal Tressy Wilson (“Ms. Wilson”).

         (Doc. 96-1 at 7-10 ¶¶ 9-13).

         The hours claimed by Plaintiffs are:

          • 328.90 for Mr. Calamusa;

          • 186.25 for Mr. Jent;

         • 103.10 for Ms. Allen;

         • 8.70 for Ms. Wiggins;

         • 388.20 for Ms. Evans;

         • 28.40 for Mr. Slate; and

          • 14.00 for Ms. Wilson.

         In arriving at their requested total award (i.e., fees plus expenses) of $360, 000.00, Plaintiffs explain:

The total fees accrued to date are $415, 275.00. This amount is comprised of attorney and paralegal time for both the Wiggins Childs firm and the Guin, Stokes & Evans firm. However, Plaintiffs' counsel is only seeking $344, 501.81 in fees, plus expenses in the amount of $15, 498.19, as an agreed cap of $360, 000.00 under the settlement. See Settlement Agreement ¶ C (Doc. 92-1). Plaintiffs' counsel has reduced its fees as part of the settlement in this matter. The total fee sought represents a $70, 774 (17%) discount on the lodestar to date. Thus, should the Court reduce the amount of expenses allowed, Plaintiffs' counsel should still receive the full amount of $360, 000.00 allowable as part of their fee based on the total amount of fees incurred in this case.

(Doc. 96-1 at 13 ¶ 19 (emphasis omitted)).

         Defendants dispute the reasonableness of Plaintiffs' suggested rates and claimed hours that comprise Plaintiffs' reduced fee amount of $344, 501.81. (Doc. 97 at 5).[3] Under Defendants' approach, Plaintiffs' total fee award would be decreased from $344, 501.81 to $201, 415.50-a reduction of 25% or $103, 818.75 from Plaintiffs' original pre-cap calculation of 415, 275.00. (Doc. 97 at 16). Id.

         In accordance with the attached revisions - and for the following reasons - the Court will award Plaintiffs $360, 000.00 in reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses.

         Reasonableness ...


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