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Smith v. Touching Angels Healthcare Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 23, 2018

COREY SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
TOUCHING ANGELS HEALTHCARE, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         On September 6, 2017, this Court granted the parties' Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement and entered the proposed Consent Decree. (ECF No. 14.)[1] The Consent Decree calls for Plaintiff Corey Smith (“Ms. Smith” or “Plaintiff”) to petition this Court for attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. ¶ 12.) Currently pending are Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (ECF No. 15), in which Plaintiff seeks reasonable attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-427; and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-507.2, and Plaintiff's Motion to Enforce Consent Decree and for Entry of Consent Judgment (ECF No. 18). The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016).

         For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED IN PART. Specifically, the award for attorneys' fees is reduced to the amount of $12, 683.54. In addition to that amount, this Court approves Plaintiffs' request for $612.64 in costs. Plaintiff's Motion to Enforce Consent Decree and for Entry of Consent Judgment (ECF No. 18) is DENIED AS MOOT.

         BACKGROUND

         Ms. Smith worked as a home care aide for the Defendant Touching Angels Healthcare, Inc. (“Touching Angels”), a for-profit home care agency, from December 2014 through May 2016. (Compl. ¶¶ 9, 12, ECF No. 1.) Josephine Wamwea (“Defendant Wamwea”), one of Touching Angels's owners, allegedly hired Ms. Smith, set her pay rate, controlled her schedule, required her to wear scrubs while working, and monitored the hours she worked. (Id. ¶ 16.) Defendants allegedly misclassified Ms. Smith as an independent contractor and failed to pay her the requisite overtime rate. (Compl. ¶¶ 18-19.) Defendants also allegedly failed to pay Ms. Smith for travel time between clients' homes. (Id. ¶ 21.)

         By and through her attorneys, David Rodwin and Sally Dworak-Fisher of the Public Justice Center[2] along with Christopher Ryon and Heather Heilman of the law firm Kahn, Smith & Collins, P.A., Ms. Smith filed this action on March 10, 2017 against Defendants Touching Angels and Josephine Wamwea on behalf of herself and all persons similarly situated. (See Compl.) Ms. Smith alleged claims under the FLSA, the MWHL, the MWPCL, and Maryland common law. Defendants filed an answer on April 13, 2017. (ECF No. 8.) The parties proceeded to discovery.

         On April 21, 2017, Plaintiff served a First Request for Production of Documents on both Defendants, a First Set of Interrogatories on Touching Angels, and a First Set of Interrogatories on Defendant Wamwea. On May 25, 2017, Defendants requested an extension of time until June 10, 2017, to respond to Plaintiff's discovery requests. Plaintiff agreed. On June 9, Defendants served Plaintiff's counsel with a Rule 68 Offer of Judgment in the amount of $2, 000. (See Pl. Ex. D, ECF No. 16-5.) Plaintiff allowed the Offer of Judgment to lapse. (Mem. 3.)

         On June 12, 2017, Defendants' counsel sent to Plaintiff's counsel Touching Angels's Answers to Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories. On the same date, Defendants' counsel sent to Plaintiff's counsel a three-page “earnings record” of payments Defendants made to Plaintiff, but did not send any other documents deemed responsive by the Plaintiff. Plaintiff sent two letters to Defendants' counsel setting out the deficiencies in Defendants' discovery responses. (See Pl.'s Letter to Defs. dated 6/14/17, Pl. Ex. E, ECF No. 16-6; Pl.'s Letter to Defs. dated 6/21/17, Pl. Ex. F, ECF No. 16-7.) In Plaintiff's view, the Defendants' responses constituted a failure to answer or respond under Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a). (Mem. 3-4.)

         On June 27, 2017, Defendants' counsel sent to Plaintiff's counsel documents that Defendants' counsel identified as being referenced in his clients' earlier discovery responses. On June 28, 2017, Plaintiff's counsel sent an email to Defendants' counsel to say that these documents were not a complete response, and asking if Defendants intended to remedy the alleged failure. Defendants' counsel did not respond to the email. (Mem. 4.)

         On July 11, 2017, Plaintiff served Defendants with a Motion to Compel. (Pl. Ex. G, ECF No. 16-8.) The parties then began to engage in settlement discussions, which culminated in a Consent Decree obligating Defendants to pay Ms. Smith $4, 000-the maximum amount available to her under the FLSA and the MWHL. (ECF No. 14.) On September 11, 2017, Plaintiff moved for attorneys' fees and costs. (ECF Nos. 15, 16.)

         On September 21, 2017, the Defendants presented Plaintiff with two checks pursuant to the Consent Decree. In the Plaintiff's view, however, the tax withholdings appeared too high. Plaintiff sent numerous emails and letters seeking to remedy the alleged shortcoming. On October 25, 2017, having not received a reply from the Defendants, the Plaintiff filed a Motion to Enforce Consent Decree and for Entry of Consent Judgment. (ECF No. 18.) Defendants filed a Response on November 13, 2017. (ECF No. 21.)

         DISCUSSION

         Prevailing parties in an FLSA action are “entitled to an award of attorney's fees and costs that they establish as reasonable.” Jackson v. Estelle's Place, LLC, 391 F. App'x 239, 242 (4th Cir. 2010); see also 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (The Court “shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action.”)

         I. Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs

         A. Attorneys' Fees

         While the payment of attorney's fees and costs to the plaintiff is mandatory, “[t]he amount of the attorney's fees . . . is within the sound discretion of the trial court.” Burnley v. Short, 730 F.2d 136, 141 (4th Cir. 1984). “The first step in determining the reasonable attorney's fees is to calculate the lodestar-that is, ‘the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate.'” Andrade v. Aerotek, Inc., 852 F.Supp.2d 637, 640 (D. Md. 2012) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888 (1984)). In assessing the reasonableness of the requested fee, the court considers the following twelve factors, known as the Johnson factors:

(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 ...

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