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Victor Stanley, Inc. v. SCH Enterprises, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 14, 2019

VICTOR STANLEY, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
SCH ENTERPRISES, LLC, ET AL. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TIMOTHY J. SULLIVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Victor Stanley, Inc.'s (“VSI”) “Motion for Attorney Fees and Expenses” (“Motion”) (ECF No. 838). Having considered the submissions of the parties (ECF Nos. 838, 843 & 844), I find that a hearing is unnecessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted. The Court awards VSI reasonable attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $143, 087.62.

         I. Introduction

         The Court has previously summarized the lengthy procedural history of this case. (ECF No. 747 at 1-7.) Of import here, on April 20, 2016, the Court ordered Defendant-judgment debtors Mark Pappas (“Pappas”) and Creative Pipe, Inc.[1] (collectively, “Defendants”) to pay a total of $1, 281, 315.91 in monetary sanctions and costs to Plaintiff-judgment creditor Victor Stanley, Inc. by May 23, 2016, and certify that such amount had been paid by May 31, 2016 (hereinafter, the “Sanctions Order”). Defendants did not comply with the Sanctions Order. (ECF No. 747 at 17.) VSI now seeks an order directing Defendants to reimburse it for the attorney's fees and costs that it incurred in connection with its efforts to obtain Defendants' compliance with the Sanctions Order.

         II. Reasonable Attorney's Fees and Expenses

         The Court is required to award certain reasonable attorney's fees and expenses when a party fails to comply with a court order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(C); see also U.S. Home Corp. v. Settlers Crossing, LLC, DKC-08-1863, 2013 WL 3713671, at *3 (D. Md. July 15, 2013). Specifically, the Court “must order the disobedient party . . . to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees, caused by the failure, unless the failure was substantially justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(C).

         “The amount of attorneys' fees to be awarded in any case is left to the discretion of the district court.” Davis v. Uhh Wee, We Care Inc., No. ELH-17-494, 2019 WL 3457609, at *10 (D. Md. July 31, 2019) (citing McAfee v. Boczar, 738 F.3d 81, 88 (4th Cir. 2013); Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243 (4th Cir. 2009)). In calculating an award of attorney's fees, the Court must first determine the lodestar amount, defined as a “reasonable hourly rate multiplied by hours reasonably expended.” Grissom v. The Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 320-21 (4th Cir. 2008); see also Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 551 (2010) (noting that the lodestar figure is “the guiding light of our fee-shifting jurisprudence”); Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (“The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.”); Garcia v. Montgomery Cty., Maryland, No. TDC-12-3592, 2018 WL 1441189, at *5 (D. Md. Mar. 22, 2018). In determining whether hours were “reasonably expended, ” courts consider whether a case was overstaffed, and the degree to which the skill and experience of counsel may have effected the time spent on a task. Id. at 434. Counsel for a party seeking attorney's fees must engage in “billing judgment, ” which means that they must “make a good faith effort to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Id.

         To ascertain what is reasonable in terms of hours expended and the rate charged, the Fourth Circuit has stated that the Court's

discretion should be guided by the following twelve 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 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 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974)). “In ruling on an award for a discovery dispute, the most relevant Johnson factors may be the time and labor expended, the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised, the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered, and the experience, reputation and ability of the attorneys.” Davis, 2019 WL 3457609, at *10 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Once the Court determines a lodestar figure, it must “subtract fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful ones.” McAfee v. Boczar, 738 F.3d 81, 88 (4th Cir. 2013), as amended (Jan. 23, 2014). The Court then awards “some percentage of the remaining amount, depending on the degree of success enjoyed by the plaintiff.” Id.

         “Reasonableness is the touchstone of any award of attorneys' fees, ” regardless of whether the award is made because of a fee-shifting statute or as a sanction. SunTrust Mortg., Inc. v. AIG United Guar. Corp., 933 F.Supp.2d 762, 769 (E.D. Va. 2013). In considering the reasonableness of attorney's fees sought as a sanction for spoliation, courts consider “the nature of the sanctionable conduct, the nature and extent of the inquiry necessary to ascertain and resolve issues respecting the sanctionable conduct, and the nature of the sanction obtained.” SunTrust, 933 F.Supp.2d at 774. Courts will reduce fee awards where a party employs “too many professionals and too many hours devoted to the sanctions-related issues, ” or neglects to exercise adequate billing judgment. Id. at 775. Similarly, if “much of the work was unnecessary. . . considering what was at stake and what was achieved, ” reasonableness will require lowering the fee award. Id. In addition, “[p]roper documentation is the key to ascertaining the number of hours reasonably spent on legal tasks.” Guidry v. Clare, 442 F.Supp.2d 282, 294 (E.D. Va. 2006). Inadequate documentation is a basis for a finding that a party has not met its burden to prove the reasonableness of its requested fee. Id. (“Lumping and other types of inadequate documentation are thus a proper basis for reducing a fee award because they prevent an accurate determination of the reasonableness of the time expended in a case.”)

         Regarding the determination of a reasonable hourly rate, the Court's Local Rules provide some guidance. Appendix B to the Local Rules (“Rules and Guidelines for Determining Attorneys' Fees in Certain Cases”) provides the following hourly rates as guidelines:

a. Lawyers admitted to the bar for less than five (5) years: ...

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