United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. Hazel United States District Judge
pending before the Court is Christopher Garza and George
Easton Jr.'s (together. "Plaintiffs"')
Motion for Attorneys* Fees. BCF No. 17. arising out of their
successful class action lawsuit against Mitchell Ruhenstein
& Associates. P.C. ("Defendant") for violations
of the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act ("FDCPA").
15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. No hearing is
necessary. Foe. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following
reasons. Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees is
case began as a class action lawsuit against Defendant for
violating § 1692g(a)(4) of the Fair Debt Collection
Practice Act ("FDCPA") by failing to provide proper
disclosures for how consumers could verify and dispute the
legitimacy of the debts they owed. ECF No. 1. On April 1 I.
2016. Plaintiffs Hied a Consent Motion for Settlement. FCF
No. 16. Following a settlement hearing on April 25. 2016. the
Court entered an Order of Final Approval of Class Action
Settlement. ECF No. 22. The settlement agreement included, in
relevant part, that Defendant would pay the two named
Plaintiffs. Garza and Easton. $1, 000.00 each, and that it
would create a common fund in the amount of $12, 425.00 to he
distributed on a pro rata basis to each of the 884 class
members. Id. at 3. In addition, as highlighted in
Plaintiffs' Consent Motion for Settlement. Defendant
agreed to change the language in its debt collection letters
going forward, to address Plaintiffs" concerns. ECF No.
16 at 4.
with their Consent Motion for Settlement. Plaintiffs also
moved for an award of attorneys" fees and costs. ECF No.
17. In their motion. Plaintiffs noted that, pursuant to the
settlement agreement. Defendant would not oppose the first
$20, 000.00 in requested fees and expenses, and that
Plaintiffs would not seek more than $35, 000.00 in fees and
expenses. Id. at 3, Reflecting this agreement.
Plaintiffs requested $35, 000.00 in attorneys' fees and
expenses, based on 87.5 hours of work completed by four
attorneys from the law firm of Greenwald, Davidson Radbil
PLCC. ("GDR"'): 11.7 hours completed by local
counsel: and an estimated $1. 234.53 in litigation related
costs. ECF No. 17- 1. Defendant submitted a Response to
Plaintiffs Motion on April 25, 2016. amended on April 26,
2016. arguing that the Court should award Plaintiff only $20,
000.00 in fees and expenses. ECF No. 23. Plaintiffs filed a
Reply in support of their Motion on May 12. 2016. reiterating
their request for $35, 000.00 in fees and expenses. ECF No.
24. They noted that GDR attorneys had dedicated an additional
32.2 hours on the case, bringing the total compensable hours
to 131.4 hours, and submitted a final bill of expenses
totaling $1.166.52. a slight downward departure from their
previous estimate. ECF No. 24 at 1: ECF No. 24-1 at 14.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the payment of attorneys" fees and costs to plaintiffs
who prevail on FDCPA claims is mandatory. 15 U.S.C. §
1692k(a)(3), "the statute makes clear that calculation
of the appropriate award must be left to the district
court." Carroll v. Wolpoff & Ahramson, 53
F.3d 626. 628 (4th Cir. 1995). 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.
Eckerhurt, 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. Plaintiffs here obtained payment following the
parties" settlement agreement, which was affirmed by
this Court, and is therefore a ""prevailing
party"' entitled to attorney's fees. See
Nelson v. A & H Motors, Inc., Civil No. JKS 12-2288.
2013 WL 388991. at *1 (D. Md. Jan. 30. 2013). This contention
is not disputed by the parties.
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. Eckerhurt, 461 U.S.
424. 433 (1983): see also Rum Creek Coal Sales. Inc. v.
Caperton, 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."
Caperton, 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 eases
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. 1074) ("the Johnson
(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 Capital. Inc., 513 F.App'x
282. 283-84 (4th Cir. 2013)(quoting Hensley, 461
U.S. at 434 n. 9)(alteration in original). Furthermore,
"[i]n considering the Johnson/Barber factors, the court
is to consider all twelve factors, but need not robotically
list each factor or comment on those factors that do not
apply." Dodeka, L.L.C. v. Amrol Davis,
No. 7:10-CV-17-D. 2010 WL 3239117. at *2 (E.D. N.C. Aug. 16.
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.11 (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.
Evatt, 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. [ISA. LLC, No. PJM-08-921. 2011
WL 3419565 at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 11. 2011). In this District,
the Court's "market knowledge" is set forth in
Appendix B of the U.S. District Court of Maryland Local
Rules, which provides Guidelines Regarding Hourly Rates based
upon length of professional experience, as follows:
(a) Lawyers admitted to the bar for less than five (5) years:
(b) Lawyers admitted to the bar for live (5) to eight (8)
(c) Lawyers admitted to the bar for nine (9) to fourteen (14)