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Randolph v. Powercomm Construction, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 4, 2018

GREGORY RANDOLPH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
POWERCOMM CONSTRUCTION, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          George J. Hazel, United States District Judge.

         This case is before the Court on remand from the Fourth Circuit, which vacated the Court's prior award of attorney's fees, ECF No. 173. See Randolph v. Powercomm Construction. Inc., 715 Fed. App"x 227 (4th Cir. 2017). The parties have filed additional written submissions on the issues presented by the fourth Circuit. ECF Nos. 185. 186. 189. 190. and the Court heard arguments from the parties during an on-the-record telephone conference held on May 9, 2018. ECF No. 187. For the following reasons, the Court awards attorney's fees to Plaintiffs in the amount of SI 77.756.50.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arose from a dispute over whether Defendants PowerComm Construction, Inc. and PowerComm's owner. David Kwasnik. St.. paid Plaintiffs, who worked for Defendants as traffic controllers, the appropriate overtime wages. ECF No. 166 at 1.[1] The parties entered a settlement agreement on December 22. 2015. requiring payment to Plaintiffs of $100, 000.02. Id. at 7: ECF No. 156 at 9. Upon the parties* motion, this Court held a Fairness Hearing on February 18. 2016. to determine the fairness of the agreement. See ECF No. 166 at 1. The Court approved the settlement agreement in a Memorandum Opinion dated April 28. 2016. Id. However, the parties were unable to reach an agreement regarding the attorney's fees, and the Court directed Plaintiffs to file a motion for attorney's fees, which they did. ECF Nos. 167 and 168. After considering the written submissions of the parties, on October 31. 2016. the Court granted-in-part the Plaintiffs" Motion for Attorney's Fees, but instructed the Plaintiffs to submit a revised request for fees and costs, deducting certain expenses and adjusting some billing rates. ECF No. 173 at 16. On November 21. 2016. the Court granted Plaintiffs' Revised Petition for Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs. ECF No. 175. and awarded Plaintiffs $183, 764.00 in fees and $4, 852.44 in costs. ECF No. 176.

         In awarding attorney's fees to Plaintiffs, the Court declined to subtract fees for work performed regarding 10 plaintiffs, out of the 65 total plaintiffs, who were dismissed on summary judgment as their claims were time-barred. ECF No. 173 at 13. The Court also declined to adjust the amount of attorney's fees on the basis of the success of the litigation, reasoning that "the overall recovery of $100, 000.02 represents thirty-eight percent of [the Plaintiffs"] claimed damages that fall within the statute of limitation." Id. at 13.

         Defendants appealed the Court's decision to the Fourth Circuit. ECF No. 177. The Fourth Circuit vacated the Court's fee award and remanded the case. Randolph, 715 Fed.Appx. at 232. The Fourth Circuit began by stating that courts should follow "a three-step process for arriving at a reasonable attorney's fee." Id. at 230. First, "determine the lodestar figure"; second, "subtract fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful ones": third, "the court should award some percentage of the remaining amount, depending on the degree of success enjoyed by the plaintiff." Id. The Fourth Circuit emphasized that "[i]n general, the decision whether and in what amount to award attorney fees is one committed to the award court's discretion, subject only to review for abuse of that discretion." hi. (quoting Brown & Pipkins. LLC v. Sev. Emp. Int'l Union, 846 F.3d 716. 729 (4th Cir. 2017)). The Fourth Circuit concluded, however, that the Court had abused its discretion in two regards.

         First, the Fourth Circuit assessed whether "the district court abused its discretion by failing to reduce the award at step two of the fee analysis." hi. at 230-31. The Fourth Circuit noted that in declining to deduct time spent by Plaintiffs' counsel pursuing the claims of the dismissed Plaintiffs, the Court "cited the general principle that an award need not be reduced for unsuccessful claims that share a common core of facts with successful claims." Id. at 231. The Fourth Circuit, however, found it "difficult to imagine how the time-barred claims of the dismissed Plaintiffs are intertwined with the successful claims, other than the two categories of claims sharing the same Defendants and both relating to unpaid wages." Id. The Fourth Circuit concluded that "[b]ecause the district court failed to adequately consider time spent pursuing claims on behalf of the dismissed Plaintiffs at step two of the fee analysis, we are constrained to vacate the fee award, and we remand for the district court to conduct a proper analysis at step two." Id.

         Second, the Fourth Circuit noted that "the district court declined to reduce the fee award based on the results obtained because Plaintiffs purportedly received 38% of their claimed damages that they incurred during the statute of limitations period, and the court did not want to discourage plaintiffs' attorneys from reaching reasonable settlements by reducing the fee award." Id. at 231. The Fourth Circuit noted that "the latter justification may be persuasive." but pointed out that "the court clearly erred in its characterization of the percentage of claimed damages received by Plaintiffs." Id. Specifically, the Fourth Circuit reasoned that "the district court overlooked the fact that Plaintiffs pursued liquidated damages . .. resulting in a total alleged damages amount of $789, 916. When the settlement amount is divided by this figure, one discovers that Plaintiffs received about 13% of the damages that they sought." Id. The Fourth Circuit concluded that "the district court was not required to proportionally reduce the award to account for this disparity." but instructed the Court to "reconsider its finding at step three that the relief obtained represents 38% of the relief claimed by Plaintiffs for claims that accrued within the statute of limitations." Id. at 232.

         Following the Fourth Circuit's remand of the case, the Court received additional written submissions from the parties. On November 22. 2017. the Plaintiffs submitted a Motion to Schedule Hearing, asking to be heard on the issues raised by the Fourth Circuit. ECF No. 185. On December 5. 2017, Defendants opposed Plaintiffs" request. ECF No. 1 86. The Court scheduled a telephone conference on the issues raised by the Fourth Circuit, and sought the parties' input on a number of issues. ECF No. 188. On May 7. 2018. Plaintiffs submitted an additional "Documentary Submission." ECF No. 189. and on May 16. 2018. Defendants filed an additional written submission. ECF No. 190.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Step Two Analysis

         As explained above, the Fourth Circuit found that the Court abused its discretion at the second step of the attorney's fee analysis by failing to sufficiently account for-or explain its decision not to account for-the 10 plaintiffs whose claims were dismissed at the summary judgment stage. In their additional written submission. Plaintiffs argue that five of the ten dismissed plaintiffs were identified by Defendants, and that Plaintiffs should not be "punished for representing individual[] [Plaintiffs] mistakenly represented to them as being within the timely class." ECF No. 189 at 2. Plaintiffs argue that they represented the remaining five plaintiffs because "Defendants failed and/or refused to produce any confirming discovery for any of the foregoing plaintiffs." Id. at 3. Thus, Plaintiffs argue that the amount of attorney's fees .should not be reduced at all. On the other hand. Defendants argue in their written submission that the attorney's fees should be reduced by a fiat 15%; the approximate percentage of total Plaintiffs whose claims were found to be time barred (10 out of 65). ECF No. 190 at 3.

         As part of their Revised Petition for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs. Plaintiffs provided the Court with 44 pages of billing summaries, including detailed descriptions of the work performed. ECF No. 175 at 5-48. The Court carefully reviewed these descriptions, and was able to identify the entries that included the 10 Plaintiffs whose claims were time-barred. Kg., Id. at 18. line 365 (billing for "Telephone Conference With Alonzo Mudd." one of the 10 dismissed Plaintiffs): id. line 379 (billing for "Telephone Conference With Jacqueline Ridley." another one of the 10 dismissed Plaintiffs)."[2] Where one of the unsuccessful Plaintiffs was expressly mentioned in the billing description, the Court concludes that this work was not "intertwined with the successful claims" and should be deducted from the final award. Randolph, 715 Fed. App"x at 231.[3] Adding up all of the time that was billed on unsuccessful claims, the Court reduces the attorney's fees award by $6, 007.50. bringing the total tee award to $177, 756.50. Having reviewed the descriptions, the Court concludes that the remainder of the time billed was either spent working directly on a successful Plaintiffs case, or was spent on work product that applied to the entire class-e.g., drafting the Complaint, drafting responses to dispositive motions, etc.-which constituted the type of "intertwined" work for which the Court need not reduce the amount of fees awarded. For example, the Complaint does not refer to any Plaintiffs specifically other than the class representative. Gregory Randolph. See ECF No. 1. Thus, the work done preparing this document was sufficiently intertwined for all Plaintiffs, and would have taken the same amount of time regardless of whether the ten ultimately unsuccessful plaintiffs were part of the class. Similarly, at the Motion for Summary Judgment stage. Defendants argued that the claims of seventeen Plaintiffs were time-barred. ECF No. 128-1 at 13-14. In their opposition filing. Plaintiffs did not address these seventeen plaintiffs individually: rather. Plaintiffs argued broadly that none of the seventeen plaintiffs" claims should be dismissed because "Defendants failed to properly maintain time records." ECF No. 130 at 37. There were no separate arguments that were made solely on behalf of the ten plaintiffs whose claims were found to be time-barred. Thus, the work done on behalf of the ten unsuccessful plaintiffs was intertwined with the work done on behalf of the seven successful plaintiffs. As such, the Court will not reduce the overall award for this type of work.

         B. Step ...


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