United States District Court, D. Maryland
Casey Knox On behalf of herself and others similarly situated Plaintiffs
Hooper's Crab House, Inc., et al Defendants
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND
Mark Coulson United States Magistrate Judge.
Casey Knox brought suit against Defendants Hooper's Crab
House, Inc., Pete Shepard, Royette Shepard, Patrick Brady,
and Ryan Intrieri (“collectively Defendants”) on
behalf of herself and all other similarly situated persons
(collectively “Plaintiffs”) for alleged
violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”) and related state laws in a so-called
“hybrid” class/collective action. On August 22,
2019, after conducting a fairness hearing, the Court entered
a final judgment approving the settlement of the matter and
certifying the settlement class. (ECF No. 157). Pursuant to
the terms of their settlement agreement, the parties
consented to be bound by my determination as to the
appropriate amount of attorneys' fees and costs to be
awarded to Plaintiffs. (ECF No. 114-1 at 16). I have
considered Plaintiffs' Motion, Defendants' Response
in Opposition thereto, and Plaintiffs' Reply in support
thereof. (ECF Nos. 159, 165 and 166). The issue is fully
briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R.
105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the foregoing reasons, I will grant
Plaintiffs' Motion in part, but will also reduce the
requested amount as detailed below. I will also deny
Plaintiffs' request for post-judgment interest.
pending dispute arises from the resolution of a
“two-year long hybrid class/collective action, ”
involving fifty workers, and recovery amounting to more
than $400, 000. (ECF No. 166 at 11). Plaintiffs request an
award of attorneys' fees in the amount of $440, 049.00,
as well as costs and expenses in the amount of $21, 478.16,
for a total of $461, 527.15, plus post-judgment interest at
the rate of 10% from August 22, 2019, through the date of
payment. (ECF No. 159 at 49). Defendants do not challenge the
$21, 478.16 in costs. Accordingly, the Court evaluates the
fees sought below.
216(b) of the FLSA expressly provides that “in addition
to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs,
” the Court must “allow a reasonable
attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of
the action.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Though a
settlement is not a judgment, attorneys' fees are
virtually always part of an FLSA resolution, and here the
parties have specifically provided for a binding
determination of such fees by the Court as part of their
settlement agreement. (ECF 157). In such cases, the Court is
guided by a “reasonableness” standard. Amaya
v. Power Design, Inc., 2018 WL 690838, at *2
(D. Md. Feb. 2, 2018).
“lodestar” analysis outlined by the Supreme Court
in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983), is the
starting point for calculating an award of reasonable
attorneys' fees. Eastern Associated Coal Corp v.
Director, 724 F.3d 561, 570-71 (4th Cir. 2013). A
lodestar amount is defined as “a reasonable hourly rate
multiplied by hours reasonably expended.” Grissom
v. Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 320 (4th Cir.
2008). In this Circuit, in arriving at an appropriate figure,
courts consider twelve so-called
“Johnson” factors: These include:
(1) [T]he time and labor required; (2) the novelty and
difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to
properly perform the legal service; (4) the preclusion of
other 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 ability of the
attorneys; (10) the “undesirability” of the case;
(11) the nature and length of the professional relationship
with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.
Thompson, 2002 WL 31777631, at *6 n.19 (citing
Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc.,
488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974)).
considering the total number of hours expended, the Court
generally considers factors one, two, and seven, although
Defendants' Opposition focuses primarily on factor one.
In assessing the reasonableness of the rates charged per
hour, factors three, four, five, six, nine, eleven, and
twelve are potentially relevant, although Defendants'
Opposition chiefly addresses factors three, five, nine and
twelve (focusing mostly on a perceived lack of support for
the rates given the relative lack of experience of some
counsel involved, and the rates for some of these same
counsel in other cases).
court determines the lodestar figure, courts “subtract
fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims related to
successful ones” and award “some percentage of
the remaining amount, depending on the degree of success
enjoyed by the plaintiff.” Robinson v. Equifax
Information Servs., 560 F.3d 235, 244 (4th Cir. 2009). A
trial court may exercise its discretion in determining the
lodestar amount because it possesses “superior
understanding of the litigation, ” and the matter is
“essentially” factual. Thompson, 2002 WL
31777631, at *6 n.18.
outlined above, there is a three-step process for awarding
statutory fees under the FLSA. At the outset, the Court notes
that Defendants' opposition does not argue for a
reduction based on the “most critical factor in
determining the reasonableness of a fee award - the degree of
success obtained by the Plaintiff.” Hensley,
461 U.S. at 436-37. Rather, Defendants seek a forty percent
reduction overall, arguing that Plaintiffs' lodestar
calculation includes unreasonable hourly rates and an
unreasonable number of hours worked at virtually every stage
of litigation. (ECF No. 165 at 9). Given that Plaintiffs'
degree of success apparently is not contested, the Court will
address Defendants' arguments regarding rates and time
Reasonable Hourly Rate
court's first task in determining an appropriate rate is
to look to the prevailing markets in the relevant community.
Prusin v. Canton's Pearls, LLC, 2019 WL
4438609, at *3 (D. Md. Mar. 12, 2019). “The prevailing
market rate may be established through affidavits reciting
the precise fees that counsel with similar qualifications
have received in comparable cases; information concerning
recent fee awards by courts in comparable cases; and specific
evidence of counsel's actual billing practice or other
evidence of the actual rates which counsel can command in the
market.” Spell v. McDaniel 824 F.2d 1380, 1402
(4th Cir. 1987). See also Eastern Associated Coal
Corp, 724 F.3d at 572 (noting an attorneys' prior
fee awards may serve as a “barometer” of the
prevailing market rate).
Defendants take issue with the hourly rates requested by
Plaintiffs' Counsel. The Plaintiffs were represented by
seven attorneys from three separate law firms. (ECF No. 165
at 6). As for the senior attorneys involved, Messrs. Hoffman,
Warbasse, and Rubin, each seeks compensation at the rate of
$400 per hour. Counsel supports these rates in three ways:
citing the comparable skill, expertise, and reputations of
similar law lawyers in similar cases; the submission of a
Declaration by each lawyer; and providing declarations from
Sally Dworak-Fisher, Marc Smith, and Mitchell I. Batt.
cite two recent fee decisions involving wage/hour lawyers
with approximately the same amount of experience as Hoffman.
(ECF No. 159 at 40). Accordingly, they contend that their
rates are within the prevailing rates in the area for work of
this nature. Plaintiffs further rely on three affidavits.
First, they rely upon an affidavit from Sally Dworak-Fisher,
Esquire, who indicates she is an attorney at the Public
Justice Center (“PJC”), and is lead Attorney of
the Workplace justice Project of the PJC, which represents
workers seeking to recover minimum and overtime wages. (ECF
No. 159-26 at 2). She testified that Counsel are experts in
the field; the recovery obtained in this case is a
significant victory, and the hourly rate charged is within
the range of attorney's fees provided by the Local Rules
and are consistent with the hourly rates she has been
personally awarded. Id. Specifically, she notes that
she has been involved in significant litigation in this
court, and recently it found her rate of $400 per hour to be
reasonable (the same rate sought by Messrs. Hoffman, Warbasse
and Rubin here). Id. Declarations from experienced
local practitioners, Marc Smith and Mitchell Batt, who are
familiar with Mr. Rubin and his work, attest that the rate of
$400 per hour is fair and reasonable, and consistent with
market rates. Id. at 4; ECF Nos. 159-16 and 159-17.
Defendants do not contest Mr. Warbasse's rate. (ECF No.
165 at 6 n.2).
all of the above, the Court finds that there is specific
evidence of the prevailing market rates in the relevant
community, which are consistent with Plaintiffs' rates.
Additionally, these rates are well within the Court's
guidelines for attorneys with similar experience, as set
forth in this Court's Local Rules. See L.R.
App'x. B(3). Although Defendants reference previous
decisions affording a lower rate, the Court does not have the
specifics of those matters before it and, in any event, finds
sufficient justification in the materials discussed above to