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Brown v. Aesa Brown Boveria, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

January 3, 2018

KEVIN BROWN, CHIEF STEWARD; AUGUSTUS JONES, PRESIDENT; AND IUE-CWA, INDUSTIRAL DIVISION OF THE COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO, CLC, LOCAL 83799 PLAINTIFFS
v.
ASEA BROWN BOVERIA, INC., FORMERLY KNOWN AS KUHLMAN ELECTIRC CORP.; AND JOHN DOES 1-50 DEFENDANTS Date Name Reduction Date Name Hours Date Name Billed Hours Reduction

          ORDER

          CARLTON W. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In a previous ruling, the Court granted defendant ABB's Motion for Sanctions against the plaintiffs' attorney, Warren Martin, Jr., in the form of reimbursement of attorneys' fees and expenses. See Brown v. ASEA Brown Boveria, No. 3:14-CV-37-CWR-LRA, 2015 WL 7289492, at *5 (S.D.Miss. Nov. 16, 2015). Before the Court is ABB's Motion for Attorneys' Fees. Having reviewed the parties' arguments and applicable law, ABB's Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         In this case, ABB seeks $19, 871.50 in attorney's fees based on the services of five Baker Donelson attorneys (Brooks Eason, Jonathan Hancock, Adam Gates, Steven Fulgham, Emma Redden) and one paralegal (Kathy Hughes) for the filing of four briefs.[1] Eason submitted an affidavit swearing that he and his colleagues litigated this case for the following number of hours, at the following rates[2]:

Name

Billed Rate

Hours

Amount

Brooks Eason

$390.00

12.9

$5, 031.00

Jonathan C. Hancock

$360.00

17.7

$6, 372.00

Adam H. Gates

$310.00

1.6

$496.00

Steven W. Fulgham

$210.00

28.9

$6, 069.00

Emma J. Redden

$195.00

9.3

$1, 813.50

Kathy L. Hughes

$180.00

0.5

$90.00

TOTAL:

70.9

$19, 871.50

         II. Legal Standard

         The Fifth Circuit has defined a two-step process for determining reasonable attorneys' fees. First, the court must calculate a “lodestar” by multiplying the reasonable number of hours expended on the case by the reasonable hourly rates for the participating attorneys. Shipes v. Trinity Indus., 987 F.2d 311, 319 (5th Cir. 1993). Second, the court may adjust the lodestar amount to account for a variety of factors, commonly referred to as the twelve Johnson factors. Lighthouse Rescue Mission, Inc. v. City of Hattiesburg, Miss., No. 2:12-CV-184, 2014 WL 4402229, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 5, 2014). An attorneys' fee ruling should “explain how each of the Johnson factors affects its award, ” but need not be meticulously detailed to survive appellate review.” In re High Sulfur Content Gasoline Prod. Liab. Litig., 517 F.3d 220, 228 (5th Cir. 2008).

         “[T]he fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended.” La. Power & Light Co. v. Kellstrom, 50 F.3d 319, 324 (5th Cir. 1995) (quotation marks and citation omitted). “[T]he district court is obligated to scrutinize the billing records carefully and to exclude excessive, duplicative, or otherwise unnecessary entries.” Coleman v. Hous. Indep. Sch. Dist., 202 F.3d 264 (5th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). Where the record is “virtually devoid of any information helpful to a determination of whether or how his hours were spent beneficially on this litigation, ” the court must deny the request for fees. Kellstrom, 50 F.3d at 324.

         The applicant must also demonstrate that the requested hourly rates are reasonable. Id. “To determine reasonable rates, a court considers the attorneys' regular rates as well as prevailing rates.” Id. at 328 (citation omitted). “[T]he actual amount paid in fees is not dispositive on the question of reasonable rates.” Id. (citations omitted).

         III. Discussion

         A. Reasonable Hourly Rates

         The Court must first determine if the hourly rates are reasonable given the attorneys' ability, competence, experience, and skill. It is well-established that “[h]ourly rates are to be computed according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant legal market, not the rates that lions at the bar may command.” Hopwood v. Tex., 236 F.3d 256, 281 (5th Cir. 2000) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A reasonable hourly rate for a particular community is generally established through affidavits of other attorneys practicing there. See, e.g., Watkins v. Fordice, 7 F.3d 453, 458 (5th Cir. 1993) (“Appellants submitted affidavits of their attorneys' customary billing rates, as well as affidavits from other attorneys in the community showing the prevailing market rates in the locality.”).

         In this case, there is no such evidence. ABB submits only a single affidavit in which Eason, the lead counsel, testifies that the requested rates are reasonable based on those customarily charged in the area. The Court questions that the proposed rates are reasonable. See Brown v. Miss. Dep't of Health, No. 3:11-CV-146-CWR-FKB, 2013 WL 12128785, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 5, 2013) (collecting cases). Without the testimony of other attorneys, the Court cannot say that these rates are charged by similar firms in the Jackson market. But, only because Martin has not contested the rates, the Court holds that the reasonable hourly rates are as proposed. See Tollett v. City of Kemah, 285 F.3d 357, 368 (5th Cir. 2002) (approving requested $300 hourly rate where such rate was not challenged by the opposing party, but declining to rule on whether the rate would be reasonable in other cases in the area); M. B. by and through Bedi v. Rankin County, No. 3:13-CV-241-CWR-FKB, 2016 WL 1077833, at *2 (S. D. Miss. Mar. 17, 2016) (“Since there is no objection . . . the Court accepts these rates as the appropriate reasonable rate[s].”).

         Accordingly, the Court will use the following hourly rates in computing the lodestar in this matter: Eason, $390.00; Hancock, $360.00; Gates, $310.00; Fulgham, $210.00; Redden, $195.00; Hughes, $180.00.[3]

         B. Reasonable Hours Expended

         The next step in the lodestar analysis is to calculate the number of hours reasonably expended. Martin objects to the reasonableness of the hours submitted by defense counsel on the basis that (1) the hours of ABB's Tennessee counsel should be excluded, (2) fees for work related to the Mississippi Litigation Accountability Act (MLAA) should be excluded, (3) billing entries with redacted activities should be excluded, and (4) defense counsel failed to exercise billing judgment. Each will be considered below.

         1. Fees for ...


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