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Berrios v. Green Wireless, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

December 27, 2016

DIANA C. BERRIOS, Plaintiff,
v.
GREEN WIRELESS, LLC, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          George J. Hazel United States District Judge

         Presently pending before the Court is Diana C. Berrios' ("Plaintiff") Motion for Attorneys' Fees. ECF No. 31, arising out of her successful lawsuit against Michael Shin ("Defendant") for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL"). Md. Code. Lab. & Empl. § 3-401 et seq., and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law ("MWPCL"). Md. Code. Lab. & Empl. Article § 3-501 et seq. No hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons. Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees is granted, in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case began as a lawsuit against Plaintiff's former employers Green Wireless. LLC. Michael Shin, and Michael Pak. for unpaid overtime wages.[1] ECF No. 1. After serving all three defendants and hearing no response. Plaintiff filed Motions for Clerk's Entry of Default. ECF Nos. 6 & 15. Default was entered against Green Wireless on March 30. 2015, and against Messrs. Shin and Pak on September 1, 2015. ECF Nos. 8 & 16. Plaintiff then moved for default judgment against all three Defendants on October 22, 2015. ECF No. 18. While this motion was pending. Mr. Shin made an offer to Plaintiff that judgment be entered against him in the amount of $3, 000. exclusive of attorneys' fees and costs. Plaintiff notified the Court of her acceptance of that offer on December 15, 2015. and the Court approved the consent judgment on April 18. 2016. ECF No. 29. Plaintiffs Default Judgment as to the remaining Defendants was denied without prejudice. Id.

         In the presently pending motion. Plaintiff requests $15, 036.50 in attorneys" fees and expenses, based on 53.8 hours of work completed by two attorneys and several paralegals from the law firm of Zipin, Amster & Greenberg, LLC, and $795.00 in litigation related costs. ECF No. 31-3. Defendant submitted a Response to Plaintiffs Motion on May 19. 2016. arguing that the Court should deny Plaintiffs request for attorney's fees in full, or in the alternative, reduce the award to reflect a reasonable rate of fees and costs. ECF No. 32. Plaintiff Filed a Reply in support of their Motion on May 31. 2016. and noted that the total compensable hours had risen to 58.6 for a total of $15.657.50 in attorney's fees. ECF No. 33.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

          The payment of attorney's fees and costs to employees who prevail on FLSA claims is mandatory. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). while the amount awarded is within the sound discretion of the trial court. Burnley v. Short, 730 F.2d 136. 141 (4th Cir. 1984). To recover attorney's fees and costs, a plaintiff must be a "prevailing party." a threshold question for which the Court accords a "generous formulation." Hensley v. Eckerhart; 461 U.S. 424. 433 (1983). A plaintiff is a "prevailing party" for the purpose of attorney's fees if the plaintiff succeeds "on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit." Id. Plaintiff here obtained payment following a Rule 68 Offer of Judgment, which was affirmed by this Court, and is therefore a "prevailing party" entitled to attorney's fees. This contention is not disputed by the parties.

         The most useful starting point for establishing the proper amount of an award is the "lodestar." or "the number of hours reasonably expended, multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424. 433 (1983); See also Rum Creek Coal Sales. Inc. v. Caperlon, 31 F.3d 169. 174 (4th Cir. 1994). The court must adjust the number of hours to delete duplicative or unrelated hours, and the number of hours must be reasonable and represent the product of "billing judgment." Caperlon, 31 F.3d. at 175 (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437). "When the plaintiff prevails on only some of the claims, the number of hours may be adjusted downward; but where full relief is obtained, the plaintiffs attorney should receive a fully compensatory fee and in cases of exceptional success, even an enhancement." id. at 174-75 (internal citations omitted). In assessing the overall reasonableness of the lodestar, the court may also consider the twelve factors set forth in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express. Inc., 488 F.2d 714. 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974) ("the Johnson factors"), specifically:

(1) The time and labor required; (2) The novelty and difficulty of the questions raised; (3) The skill requisite to perform the legal services properly; (4) The preclusion of employment by the attorney due to 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 between the attorney and the client; and (12) Attorney's fee awards in similar cases.

See Caperton, 31 F.3d at 175. These factors, however, "usually are subsumed within the initial calculation of hours reasonably expended at a reasonable hourly rate [. i.e., the lodestar]." Randle v. H & P Capiial. Inc., 513 F.App'x 282. 283-84 (4th Cir. 2013)(quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424. 434 n. 9). Furthermore, "[i]n considering the Johnson/Barber factors, the court is to consider ail twelve factors, but need not robotically list each factor or comment on those factors that do not apply." Dodeka, L.L.C. v. AmrolDavis, No. 7:10-CV-1 7-D. 2010 WL 3239117. at *2 (F.D. N.C. Aug. 16.2010).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Reasonable Rate

          In determining whether counsel's hourly rates are reasonable, the court must consider whether "the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Blum v. Stenson,465 U.S. 886. 890 n.l 1 (1984). "[D]etermination of the hourly rate will generally be the critical inquiry in setting the reasonable fee. and the burden rests with the fee applicant to establish the reasonableness of a requested rate." Plyler v. Exalt,902 F.2d 273, 277 (4th Cir. 1990)(citation omitted). As part of its inquiry, the court may rely on "affidavits from other attorneys attesting to the reasonableness of the hourly rates."" and also the court's "knowledge of the market." Beyond Sys., Inc. v. World Ave. USA, LLC, No. PJM-08-921. 2011 WL 3419565 at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 11. 2011). In this District, the Court's "market ...


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