United States District Court, D. Maryland
Charles B. Day, United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court is Plaintiff Molly Weingarten Kreuze's
filing in support of her request for attorneys' fees and
expenses, ECF No. 142, submitted in response to this
Court's orders awarding Plaintiff sanctions pursuant to
her two Motions for Sanctions. ECF Nos. 51, 128. Pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636, and Local Rule 301, the Honorable Peter
J. Messitte referred this matter to the undersigned for all
discovery related purposes. The Court has reviewed
Plaintiff's filing, as well as Defendants' opposition
thereto. No. hearing is deemed necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D.
Md.). For the reasons stated herein, the Court will award
attorneys' fees to Plaintiff in the amount of $30, 157.50
and costs in the amount of $1, 673.00.
Factual and Procedural Background
commenced the underlying proceeding on April 27, 2017.
Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 1. In her complaint, Plaintiff
alleged that Defendants VCA Anima l Hospitals, Inc.
(“VCA”) and VCA Southern Maryland Veterinary
Referral Center (“SMVRC”) (collectively
“Defendants”) discriminated against her because
of her disability and refused to accommodate her as required
under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.
Pl.'s Compl. 9-11. After receiving Plaintiff's Rule
34 discovery requests, Defendants served their response and
objected to certain categories. Plaintiff found these
responses to be insufficient and ultimately filed a motion
with this Court pursuant to Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure seeking to compel Defendants to respond or
supplement their responses. Pl.'s Mot. to Compel, Sept.
18. 2017, ECF No. 19. On October 25, 2017, this Court granted
Plaintiff's Motion to Compel in part and ordered
Defendants to comply with the discovery requests as outlined
during the hearing. See Paperless Order
(“Order to Compel”), ECF No. 34. On November 22,
2017, Defendants appealed the Order to Compel to Judge
Messitte. Mot. to Appeal Certain Rulings, ECF No. 46. Judge
Messitte denied Defendants' appeal on December 21, 2017.
Mem. Op., Messitte, J., ECF No. 49; Order, Messitte, J., ECF
No. 50. According to Plaintiff, despite this Order to Compel
and Judge Messitte's ruling upholding it, Defendants
still did not fully comply with the discovery requests.
January 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed her first motion for
sanctions (“Plaintiff's First Motion for
Sanctions”) pursuant to Rule 37, seeking an order from
this Court sanctioning Defendants for their failure to obey
this Court's Order to Compel and awarding Plaintiff
attorneys' fees and costs. Pl.'s 1st Mot. for
Sanctions, ECF No. 51. After this motion was fully briefed,
but before this Court could hold a hearing on the matter,
Plaintiff filed a second motion for sanctions
(“Plaintiff's Second Motion for Sanctions”)
pursuant to Rule 37, seeking additional sanctions against
Defendants for their alleged “failure to timely produce
adequate discovery, their ill-timed ‘document dump'
on the eve of depositions, and failure to prepare corporate
designees . . . .” Pl.'s 2d Mot. for Sanctions 2,
July 27, 2018, ECF No. 128. On July 31, 2018, Defendants
filed a motion to continue the hearing for Plaintiff's
First Motion for Sanctions until after the Second Motion for
Sanctions was briefed. ECF No. 130. On August 2, 2018, this
Court granted Defendant's request, postponing a hearing
until both motions were fully briefed. ECF No. 132.
September 13, 2018, this Court heard oral arguments for both
of Plaintiff's Motions for Sanctions. ECF No. 140. After
reviewing the parties' filings and hearing arguments from
both sides, this Court granted Plaintiff's First Motion
for Sanctions in full and granted Plaintiff's Second
Motion for Sanctions in part. Paperless Order, ECF No. 138;
Paperless Order, ECF No. 139. As discovery had already closed
in the matter, the Court ruled that Plaintiff would be
awarded attorneys' fees and costs as follows: For
Plaintiff's First Motion for Sanctions, the Court awarded
Plaintiff reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred
seeking Defendants' compliance with this Court's
Order to Compel for the period beginning November 25, 2018.
See Sept. 13, 2018, Hearing Tr. (“Hearing
Tr.”) 47:7-48:3, ECF No. 141. This included reasonable
fees and costs associated with drafting and filing
Plaintiff's First Motion for Sanctions and preparing for
and conducting arguments during the subsequent hearing.
See Id. at 47:23-25. In granting Plaintiff's
Second Motion for Sanctions, the Court awarded the following:
1. Costs related to the January 25, 2018, deposition of Dr.
David Michael Barnett;
2. Costs and attorneys' fees related to the March 12,
2018, deposition of Maria Druse, reduced by 50%;
3. Attorneys' fees related to Plaintiff's document
review of the newly produced discovery by Defendant between
January 18, 2018, and January 26, 2018, reduced by 50%;
4. Costs related to Plaintiff's efforts to serve Michael
Lofton, subject to Defendants' showing of when they knew
that Mr. Lofton's address had changed and when it
communicated that information to Plaintiff.
See Id. at 82:7-90:25. This award also included reasonable fees
and costs associated with drafting and filing Plaintiff's
Second Motion for Sanctions and preparing for and conducting
arguments during the subsequent hearing. See Id. at
83:18-84:1. The Court gave Plaintiff ten (10) days by which
to submit an affidavit in support of the amount of fees and
costs that she sought to be awarded. The Court also gave
Defendants ten (10) days to submit any opposition.
September 24, 2018, Plaintiff submitted her request for fees
through an affidavit by her counsel and several exhibits to
support her request (collectively “Pl.'s
Req.”). See Aff. of Jonathan C. Puth
(“Puth Aff.”) in Support of Pl.'s Req. for
Fees & Costs, ECF No. 142. In her request, Plaintiff
seeks to recovery attorneys' fees in the amount of $35,
645.00 and costs in the amount of $2, 173.00. Id. at
¶¶ 26-27. In their response to Plaintiff's
Request, Defendants assert that “certain time expended
by Plaintiff's attorneys is excessive, unnecessary, and
duplicative, is clerical or administrative in nature, or is
otherwise non-compensable . . . .” Defs.' Opp'n
to Pl.'s Req. 2, ECF No. 145. In light of this,
Defendants argue that Plaintiff should receive at most $22,
335.00 in fees and $1, 673.00 in costs. Id. at 8-9.
Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may
seek sanctions against another party for failing to comply
with a court's discovery order. If a court finds that a
party did fail to obey the discovery order, Rule 37(b) lists
the sanctions a court may impose on that party, which
include: directing that the matters covered by the order be
taken as established for purposes of the action; prohibiting
the non-compliant party from proceeding on certain theories
or introducing certain evidence; dismissing the action in
whole or part; and treating the failure to comply as contempt
of court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A). Regardless of whether the
court imposes one of the enumerated sanctions, it must award
reasonable attorneys' fees to the prevailing party
“unless the failure [to comply] was substantially
justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses
unjust.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(C); see also
Stephens v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, Civ.
A. No. DKC-15-1780, 2017 WL 1832202, at *3 (D. Md. May 8,
2017) (awarding “reasonable expenses caused by
Plaintiffs' failure to comply with the discovery order or
appear at their depositions”).
calculating an award of attorney's fees, the Court must
determine the lodestar amount, defined as a “reasonable
hourly rate multiplied by hours reasonably expended.”
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433
(1983); Grissom v. Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 320
(4th Cir. 2008) (same); Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creativ e
Pipe, Inc., No. MJG-06-2662, 2016 WL 1597119, at *14 (D.
Md. Apr. 20, 2016) (same). The Fourth Circuit has further
identified factors that a court is to use as a guide when
determining what is “reasonable”:
(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 abilit y of the
attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the
legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and
length of the professional relationship between attorney and
client; and (12) attorneys' fees awards in similar cases.
Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235,
243-44 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Barber v. Kimbrell's
Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 n. 28 (4th Cir.1978)).
order to recover for attorney's fees, counsel must submit
appropriate materials supporting his or her claim. This
typically includes billing records and affidavits regarding
the services provided. Since reasonableness is the touchstone
for the award of fees, the party seeking the award of fees
bears the burden of proof and “must provide
‘detailed records' that specify ‘the services
performed, by whom they were performed, the time expended
thereon, and the hourly rate charged.'” Bel Air
Plaza Ltd. P'ship v. Ross Dress for Less, Inc., Civ.
No. CCB-14-2533, 2016 WL 3440191, at *1 (D. Md. Jun. 23,
2016) (citing Rauch v. McCall, 134 Md.App. 624, 639
(2000) [citation omitted]). When a claim for attorney's
fees is filed in the federal court in Maryland, there is an
extra layer of complexity arising from the Court's
adoption of its Guidelines as enumerated in Appendix B of the
Local Rules. The Guidelines address the format for filing the
fee request, the recording of time and the submission of
quarterly statements. They also provide direction regarding
what is compensable and non-compensable time. For the
convenience of counsel, these Guidelines list a presumptive
range of reasonable hourly rates. Gonzales v. Caron,
Civ. A. No. CBD-10-2188, 2001 WL 3886979, at *2 (D. Md. Sept.
2, 2011) (“[G]enerally this Court presumes that a rate
is reasonable if it falls within these ranges.”). Once
a fee request is submitted, it becomes the responsibility of
the party challenging the request to articulate the areas
where an award would be inappropriate. “[T]he Court
will not review any challenged entry in the bill unless the
challenging party has identified it specifically and given an
adequate explanation for the basis of the challenge.”
Thompson v. U.S. Dept. of Hous. and Urban Dev., No.
Civ. A. MJG-95-309, 2002 WL 31777631, at *10 (D. Md. Nov. 21,
support Plaintiff's request, the Puth Affidavit details
the efforts spent pursuing Defendants' compliance with
this Court's Order to Compel. Additionally, exhibits with
time entries of tasks broken down into areas of litigation
and receipts for various costs incurred for delivery and
transcript services were included. See ECF No. 142.
The Court finds Plaintiff complied with the Guidelines'
requirements for formatting her request and has provided
details necessary to justify the amount requested.
Accordingly, this Court will turn to reviewing the
reasonableness of her request and the specific challenges
raised by Defendants.
Reasonable Hourly Rate
seeks compensatio n for attorneys' fees according to the
following rates: Jonathan C. Puth, who has over 25 years of
experience, at a rate of $475.00/hour; Andrew M. Adelman, who
has approximately 5 years of experience, at a rate of
$225.00/hour; and law clerks at a rate of
Puth Aff. ¶¶ 2, 6, 15. In his affidavit, Mr. Puth
discusses in detail the qualifications and experience of the
attorneys representing Plaintiff. Id. at
¶¶ 2-7. He also goes to great lengths to outline
his firm's usual rates of compensation, the standard
rates of compensation used in other district courts, as well
as his reasoning for why those higher rates are actually
reasonable rates of compensation in today's market.