United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL, United States District Judge
debtor's counsel Chung & Press. LLC
("Appellant") appeals a January 11. 2017 order by
the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland
granting, in part. Debtor Counsel's Interim Application
for Compensation and Reimbursement of Lxpenses, ECF No. 1-2.
The Bankruptcy Court reduced Appellant's request for
attorney's fees from $14, 602.50 to $9, 300.00. United
States Trustee filed an Amicus brief pursuant to 11 U.S.C.
§ 307 defending the Bankruptcy Court's Order. Oral
argument is deemed unnecessary because the facts and legal
arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record,
and the decisional process would not be significantly aided
by oral argument. See Fed. R. Bankr. P. 8019. For
the reasons that follow, the Court will affirm the Bankruptcy
William T. Starner filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief
under the provisions of 11 U.S.C. $$ 1301 et seq. on
July 10. 2014. ECF No. 1-2 at I. Appellant filed a Disclosure
o\' Compensation pursuant to Bankruptcy Rule
2016(b) stating that it had accepted a $3, 645 retainer and
would charge Debtor at a rate of $495 per hour for legal
representation. Id., at 1. The Bankruptcy Court
entered an order confirming Debtor's Chapter 13 plan on
September 2, 2015, which pays creditors $9, 760.00 over a
period of 36 months. Id., at 3. According to the
Bankruptcy Court. Debtor's Chapter 13 case was relatively
routine, "with the only wrinkle being the Debtor's
dispute with his ex-spouse." Id. at 2.
February 23. 2016. Appellant filed a Fee Application
requesting $14, 602.50 in fees and $211.50 in expenses for
work performed between May 5. 2014 and January 12. 2016
reflecting its disclosed rate of $495 per hour. Id.
at 3: HCF No. 2-50. The Bankruptcy Court held a hearing on
the Fee Application on August 16. 2016, ECF No. 5. and
reduced Appellant's fee award to $9, 300.00. ECF No. 1-2
at 13. The Bankruptcy Court denied Appellant's Motion to
Alter or Amend the reduced fee award on February 10. 2017.
ECF No. 1 -3. and this appeal followed. ECF No. 1.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court has jurisdiction over the appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 158(a). See also Mori Runta v. Gorman, 721
F.3d 241, 246 (4th Cir.2013) (parties of bankruptcy cases can
appeal orders that dispose of discrete disputes within the
larger case). The Court reviews the Bankruptcy Court's
findings of fact for clear error and conclusions of law de
novo. See In re Merry-Go-Round Enterprises. Inc..
400 F.3d 219. 224 (4th Cir. 2005): In re Kielisch,
258 F.3d 315. 319 (4th Cir. 2001). The amount of an
attorney's fee award is left to the discretion of the
trial court, which has close and intimate knowledge of the
efforts expended and the value of the services rendered.
Arnold v. Burger King Corp. 719 F.2d 63. 67 (4th
alleges that the Bankruptcy Court erred in reducing its fee
award because the Bankruptcy Court 1) failed to consider the
customary compensation charged by similar practitioners in
non-bankruptcy actions. 2) incorrectly concluded that a
paralegal could have performed 4.2 hours of work billed by
Appellant, and 3) improperly considered the presumptively
reasonable standard flat fee set forth in Appendix F of the
Local Bankruptcy Rules for the District of Maryland (the
"no look" fee). ECF No. 8.
Chapter 13 proceeding, "the court may allow reasonable
compensation to the debtor's attorney .. . based on a
consideration of the benefit and necessity of such sen ices
to the debtor and the other factors set forth in this
section." 11 U.S.C. § 330(a)(4)(b). The Local
Bankruptcy Rules allow bankruptcy counsel to charge a flat
fee in representing Chapter 13 debtors. The fee is
presumptively reasonable but not mandatory. See Loc.
Bankr. R. App'x F; see also In re Kestner, No.
12-32831-RAC. 2015 WL 1855357. at *11 (Bankr. D. Md. Apr. 20.
2015). However, if debtor's counsel chases an alternate
arrangement, such as an hourly rate, counsel must file an
application in accordance with the Bankruptcy Code. In re
Kestner, No. 12-32831-RAC. at * 11. The bankruptcy court
has both the power and duty to review the fee application.
See 11 U.S.C. § 329(b): In re
Courtois, 222 B.R. 491. 494 (Bankr. D. Md. 1998).
330(a)(3) of the Bankruptcy Code sets forth the factors the
bankruptcy court must apply to determine the reasonable fee
In determining the amount of reasonable compensation to be
awarded to an examiner, trustee under chapter 11. or
professional person, the court shall consider the nature, the
extent, and the value of such services, taking into account
all relevant factors, including- (A) the time spent on such
services; (B) the rates charged for such services: (C)
whether the services were necessary to the administration of.
or beneficial at the time at which the service was rendered
toward the completion of, a case under this title: (D)
whether the services were performed within a reasonable
amount of time commensurate with the complexity, importance,
and nature of the problem, issue, or task addressed; (E) with
respect to a professional person, whether the person is board
certified or otherwise has demonstrated skill and experience
in the bankruptcy field: and (F) whether the compensation is
reasonable based on the customary compensation charged by
comparably skilled practitioners in cases other than cases
under this title.
11 U.S.C. § 33Q(aX3).
determining the reasonableness of the fee sought here, the
Bankruptcy Court applied a hybrid of the lodestar analysis
and twelve-factor test set forth in Johnson v. Georgia
Highway Express. Inc.,488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974) as
adopted by the Fourth Circuit in Barber v. Kimbrell's
inc.,577 F.2d 216 (4th Cir. 1978). See ECF No.
1-2 at 6-7. Under the lodestar analysis, a reviewing court
multiplies the number of hours reasonably expended by a
reasonable hourly rate. See Daly v. Hill, 790 F.2d
1071. 1084 (4th Cir. 1986). The court may then assess the
overall reasonableness of the lodestar by considering the
twelve Johnson factors, specilically: (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 abilitv of the attornevs; (10)
the undesirability of the case; (11) the nature and length of
the professional relationship between the attorney and the
client: and ...