United States District Court, D. Maryland, Northern Division
October 9, 2014
BALTIMORE-WASHINGTON CONSTRUCTION AND PUBLIC EMPLOYEES, LABORERS' DISTRICT COUNCIL DEFINED CONSTRIBUTION RETIREMENT PLAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
A-PINN CONTRACTING, LLC, Defendant.
WILLIAM D. QUARLES, Jr., District Judge.
The Baltimore-Washington Construction and Public Employees, Laborers' District Council Defined Contribution Retirement Plan (the "Plan") and others (collectively "the Plaintiffs"), sued A-Pinn Contracting, LLC ("A-Pinn") for violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"). Pending is the Plaintiffs' limited objection to Magistrate Judge Gallagher's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on the Plaintiffs' motion for entry of default. For the following reasons, the Court will adopt Judge Gallagher's R&R.
On November 19, 2013, the Plaintiffs sued A-Pinn for violations of ERISA. See ECF No. 1. The complaint alleged that A-Pinn violated ERISA and LMRA by failing to comply with the Fund's payroll audit and failing to make required contributions to the Fund. Id. ¶¶ 8-18. On May 30, 2014, the Plaintiffs moved for entry of default because A-Pinn had failed to respond to the complaint. ECF No. 9. On June 5, 2014, the Court referred the motion to Magistrate Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher. ECF No. 11.
On July 14, 2014 Judge Gallagher issued her R&R. ECF No. 15. Judge Gallagher found that the Plaintiffs had "asserted a valid cause of action and are entitled to damages pursuant to [29 U.S.C.] § 502(g)." Id. at 7. Judge Gallagher recommended that the Court award the Plaintiffs $8.00 in liquidated damages and $1, 201.25 in audit costs. Id. at 8. The Plaintiffs requested $7, 898 in attorneys' fees and $630 in costs. Id. Judge Gallagher recommended awarding the Plaintiffs $630 for costs, but recommended limiting the attorneys' fees to $5, 520.00. Id. at 10. Judge Gallagher also recommended injunctive relief: A-Pinn should submit all outstanding contribution reports and submit to an audit. Id. at 11-12.
On July 14, 2014, the Plaintiffs filed a limited objection to the R&R. ECF No. 16. The Plaintiffs contend that Judge Gallagher erred in not awarding the full amount of requested attorneys' fees. ECF No. 18 at 2.
A. Legal Standard
Under the Magistrate Judges Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636, a district judge may designate a magistrate judge to conduct hearings (if necessary) and report proposed findings of fact and recommendations for action on a dispositive motion. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); see also Local Rule 301.5(b) (D. Md. 2011).
A party aggrieved by a magistrate judge's R&R about a dispositive motion must file "specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations" within 14 days. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). The reviewing judge "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the [magistrate judge's] report... to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The judge "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations, " and "may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Id.
B. Attorneys' Fees
The Plaintiffs request $7, 898.00 in attorneys' fees and an additional $711 in fees incurred preparing their limited objection. ECF No. 18. Counsel for the Plaintiffs, Richard S. Siegal, Esq., worked 18.4 hours on the Plaintiffs' case through the default motion. ECF No. 17 at 10. Siegal has been admitted to practice for about six years and bills at an hourly rate of $395.00. Id. In his six years of experience, Siegal has "substantial experience in litigating matters arising under [ERISA]." ECF No. 18 at 2.
Judge Gallagher recommended reducing Siegal's hourly rate to $300 an hour, "the maximum presumptively reasonable rate for a lawyer with his experience" based on this Court's Guidelines for Determining Attorneys' Fees in Certain Cases. ECF No. 17 at 10. Judge Gallagher recognized that other courts have departed from the Guidelines to award Siegal's full fees,  but felt such a departure was unreasonable in this case because Siegal's work was not superior,  and his expertise in ERISA was rewarded by allocating the maximum presumptively reasonable rate. ECF No. 17 at 10. The Plaintiffs argue that because judges have departed from the Guidelines in the past in awarding Siegal's fees, the Court should do the same here. ECF No. 18 at 2-3. Additionally, the Plaintiffs contend that Siegal did not supplement their prior motions as ordered by Judge Gallagher because they were trying to reduce costs, and this is not a reason to reduce the fee award. Id. at 3.
The Court recognizes Siegal's experience in ERISA, but will not depart from Judge Gallagher's recommendation. Siegal's $395 an hour rate has been found reasonable in other cases and may be reasonable in future cases. Although, in the past, this Court has determined that Siegal's work merited an above guidelines rate, this Court has also previously determined that $300 an hour was a reasonable rate for Siegal. E.G.S., Inc., No. WDQ-09-3174 (D. Md. Apr. 22, 2010). Judge Gallagher found that Siegal's work in this case did not merit a $95 an hour departure above the guidelines. This conclusion is well-founded. The Court declines to find that $395 an hour is presumptively unreasonable, but Siegal's work in this case merits a $300 an hour rate.
The Plaintiffs also request $711 in fees incurred preparing their limited objection. ECF No. 18 at 2. Because the Plaintiffs' limited objection was well-prepared and does not reflect the concerns noted by Judge Gallagher at the default stage, the Court will award the full amount of attorneys' fees incurred preparing the motion.
For the reasons stated above, Judge Gallagher's R&R will be adopted.