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Lopez-Easterling v. Charter Communications LLC

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

December 15, 2017

KAREN LOPEZ-EASTERLING, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. D AVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on Plaintiff's Petition for Attorneys' Fees. (Doc. # 92). The matter has been fully briefed. (Docs. # 93, 98, 99, 104 and 105).

         I. Relevant Background

         In this case, Plaintiff filed a one-count Complaint to recover overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, for uncompensated work performed during her lunch break. (Doc. # 1). The case was actively litigated for over two years. There were numerous unrequited overtures from Plaintiff to Defendant to resolve the claim prior to trial. (Doc. # 99-2). Defendant made crystal clear that it had no interest in resolving the case and exercised its right to ignore all of Plaintiff's proposals. Thereafter, the dispute was ultimately tried to a jury. (Doc. # 82). The jury found in favor of Plaintiff. (Id.).

         More specifically, the jury found Plaintiff had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) she worked in excess of forty hours in a week in at least one workweek and was not paid for that overtime, (2) Defendant actually or constructively knew that Plaintiff worked over 40 hours in at least one workweek without pay, and (3) Defendant failed to pay Plaintiff overtime pay as required by law. (Doc. # 82 at pp. 1-2). The jury further found that Defendant had not established by a preponderance of the evidence that the unpaid work over forty hours per week was de minimis. (Id. at p. 2). The jury did not find that Defendant knew or showed reckless disregard for whether the FLSA prohibited its conduct. (Id.).

         On June 13, 2017, the court entered judgment on the jury's verdict on the one count of the Complaint in favor of Plaintiff against Defendant in the amount of $5, 355.72. (Doc. # 91). The court's Final Judgment also held that Plaintiff is entitled to recover reasonable costs and attorneys' fees. (Id.). The court now considers Plaintiff's Petition for those fees and costs.

         II. Standard of Review

         The text of the FLSA provides that reasonable attorney's fees and costs are to be awarded as a matter of course to a prevailing plaintiff. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (when employer violates FLSA's overtime or minimum-wage provisions, the court “shall ... allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action”); Kreager v. Solomon & Flanagan, P.A., 775 F.2d 1541, 1542 (11th Cir.1985) (“Section 216(b) of the [FLSA] makes fee awards mandatory for prevailing plaintiffs.”). Here, Defendant concedes that Plaintiff prevailed at trial, and is therefore entitled to recover a reasonable fee under § 216(b). (Doc. # 98). However, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's request for fees and costs is not reasonable and should be reduced. (Doc. # 98). Notably, Defendant does not challenge the hourly rates charged by Plaintiff's counsel.[1] (Id.). Therefore, this analysis will focus on the “reasonableness” of the hours expended.

         “The 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.... 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.” Bivins v. Wrap It Up, Inc., 548 F.3d 1348, 1350 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). However, “[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.” Cullens v. Georgia Dep't of Transp., 29 F.3d 1489, 1492 (11th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted); see also Reynolds v. Alabama Dep't of Transp., 926 F.Supp. 1448, 1453 (M.D. Ala. 1995) (“After calculating the lodestar fee, the court should then proceed with an analysis of whether any portion of this fee should be adjusted upward or downward.”).

         In fixing a reasonable fee, courts in this Circuit consider the twelve factors articulated in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974), which are as follows: “1) the time and labor required; 2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; 3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; 4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to the acceptance of the 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 the attorneys; 10) the ‘undesirability' of the case; 11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and 12) awards in similar cases.” Farley v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 197 F.3d 1322, 1340 n. 7 (11th Cir. 1999); see also Bivins, 548 F.3d at 1350 (“In determining what is a reasonable hourly rate and what number of compensable hours is reasonable, the court is to consider the 12 factors enumerated in Johnson.”).

         III. Analysis

         A. Reasonable Hours

         “Fee applicants must exercise what the Supreme Court has termed billing judgment. ... That means they must exclude from their fee applications excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary hours.” American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 428 (11th Cir. 1999) (citations and internal marks omitted). Thus, the district court “must be reasonably precise in excluding hours thought to be unreasonable or unnecessary, ” and “is charged with deducting for redundant hours.” Norman v. Alorica, Inc., 836 F.2d 1292, 1301 (S.D. Ala. 2012). “If fee applicants do not exercise billing judgment, courts are obligated to do it for them, to cut the amount of hours for which payment is sought, pruning out those that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary. Courts are not authorized to be generous with the money of others.” ACLU of Georgia, 168 F.3d at 428 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff's fee petition is unreasonable in the following respects: (1) the award should be reduced because Plaintiff only partially prevailed; (2) Plaintiff cannot recover for duplicative time entries; (3) Plaintiff cannot recover for vague time entries; (4) Plaintiff cannot recover for preparation of the fee petition; and (5) the cost bill should be reduced for expenses not adequately supported. (Doc. # 98).

         A. Plaintiff Prevailed On Her Single FLSA Claim

         Defendant argues that, because Plaintiff did not prevail on her request for liquidated damages, she did not fully prevail on her FLSA claim. The court disagrees. Plaintiff's Complaint presented one claim on which Plaintiff prevailed at trial. The jury's favorable finding regarding Defendant's good faith defense to liquidated damages operated to reduce the damages for which it was responsible, but that finding did not negate Plaintiff's ...


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