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Butler v. Directsat USA, LLC.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 18, 2016




Presently pending and ready for resolution in this Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) case is a motion for attorneys’ fees and costs filed by Plaintiffs. (ECF No. 330). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs’ motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

Additional background can be found in prior memorandum opinions. (See, e.g., ECF No. 328). This collective action was brought under the FLSA for an alleged failure to pay overtime wages. After nearly five years of litigation, the parties agreed to settle their claims on August 17, 2015. The settlement agreement, which the undersigned approved on September 3, 2015 (ECF Nos. 328; 329), provides that Defendants will pay each individual Plaintiff a specified amount that ranges from $54.36 to $4, 197.78, depending on the number of weeks worked during the three-year statute of limitations period. In all, Defendants agreed to pay Plaintiffs approximately $36, 000. In approving the settlement agreement, the court found that a bona fide dispute remained as to Defendants’ liability for overtime payments under the FLSA, and that the settlement was a fair and reasonable compromise. (ECF No. 328, at 6-8).

The settlement agreement did not include an attorneys’ fee and cost calculation, instead providing that Defendants will pay attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by Plaintiffs, in an amount to be determined by the court following Plaintiffs’ submission of a request for fees and costs. (See ECF No. 327-1 ¶ 9). On September 18, Plaintiffs filed such request. (ECF No. 330). Defendants responded (ECF No. 331), and Plaintiffs replied (ECF No. 332).

II. Standard of Review

“The proper calculation of an attorney’s fee award involves a three-step process. First, the court must ‘determine the lodestar figure by multiplying the number of reasonable hours expended times a reasonable rate.’” McAfee v. Boczar, 738 F.3d 81, 88 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243 (4th Cir. 2009)). In assessing reasonableness, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has instructed district courts to consider what are known as the Johnson factors, which are: (1) the time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised; (3) the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the attorney’s opportunity costs in pressing the instant litigation; (5) the customary fee for like work; (6) the attorney’s expectations at the outset of the litigation; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount in controversy and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship between attorney and client; and (12) attorneys’ fees awards in similar cases. Id. at 88 n.5 (citing Barber v. Kimbrell’s Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 n.28 (4thCir. 1978)). “Next, the court must ‘subtract fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful ones.’ Finally, the court should award ‘some percentage of the remaining amount, depending on the degree of success enjoyed by the plaintiff.’” Id. (quoting Robinson, 560 F.3d at 244. The Fourth Circuit has noted that a district court’s determination of attorneys’ fees should stand unless the district court abused its discretion by reaching a decision that is “‘clearly wrong’ or committing an ‘error of law.’” Id. at 88 (quoting Brodziak v. Runyon, 145 F.3d 194, 196 (4th Cir. 1998)).

III. Analysis

A. Lodestar Calculation

1. Hourly Rate

“[T]he burden rests with the fee applicant to establish the reasonableness of a requested rate.” Robinson, 560 F.3d at 244 (quoting Plyler v. Evatt, 902 F.2d 273, 277 (4th Cir. 1990)). “In addition to the attorney’s own affidavits, the fee applicant must produce satisfactory specific evidence of the prevailing market rates in the relevant community for the type of work for which he seeks an award, ” including, for example, “affidavits of other local lawyers who are familiar both with the skills of the fee applicants and more generally with the type of work in the relevant community.” Id. at 244, 245 (emphases added) (internal quotation marks omitted). As noted by another circuit, “The general rule is that the ‘relevant market’ for purposes of determining the reasonable hourly rate for an attorney’s services is ‘the place where the case is filed.’” Am. Civil Liberties Union of Georgia v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 437 (11thCir. 1999) (quoting Cullens v. Georgia Dep't. of Transp., 29 F.3d 1489, 1494 (11th Cir. 1994)). The Local Rules provide non-binding guidelines regarding reasonable hourly rates that vary depending on how long an attorney has been admitted to the bar. Local Rules, App’x B.[1]

Plaintiffs request the following rates for attorneys who worked on this case:

. Daniel A. Katz (20 years admitted to the bar): $475
. Lucy B. Bansal (1 year): $225 . Meghan Droste (4 years): $225
. Cori Cohen (3 years): $225 . Ryan F. Stephan (15 years): $425
. James B. Zouras (20 years): $425 . Andrew C. Ficzko ...

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