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ADOLPH COORS CO. v. TRUCK INSURANCE EXCHANGE

August 22, 2005.

ADOLPH COORS CO. et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TRUCK INSURANCE EXCHANGE, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN FACCIOLA, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case was referred to me for resolution of a fee dispute related to plaintiffs' successful motion for remand. Upon consideration of plaintiffs' statements of costs and attorneys' fees and defendant's responses, plaintiffs are hereby awarded fees and costs in the amount of $10,641.22.

BACKGROUND

  On December 13, 2004, defendant Truck Insurance Exchange ("Truck") removed this case from the District of Columbia Superior Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Adolph Coors Co. v. Truck Ins. Exch., No. Civ. A. 04-2150RMU, 2005 WL 486580, at *1 (D.D.C. Feb. 28, 2005). Plaintiffs Adolph Coors Company and Coors Brewing Company (known collectively as "Coors"), filed a motion to remand on January 3, 2005. Id. The district court granted the motion to remand on February 28, 2005 because defendant failed to establish diversity of citizenship. Id. The district court also directed defendant to pay the costs and expenses plaintiffs incurred as a result of the removal. Id.

  DISCUSSION

  I. Fee Awards Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)

  If a court decides to remand a case, that court "may require payment of just costs and any actual expenses, including attorney fees, incurred as a result of the removal." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (2000). It should be noted that the reference to "actual expenses" does not limit the ability of the court to conduct an inquiry into the reasonableness of the fees and costs. On the contrary, the court is "duty-bound to ensure that an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to § 1447(c) is reasonable." Huffman v. Saul Holdings Ltd. P'ship, 262 F.3d 1128, 1134 (10th Cir. 2001). As the Huffman court explained, "unreasonably high fees are not "incurred" as a result of removal; rather, excessive fee requests flow from, and accumulate by means of, improper billing practices. . . ." Id. at 1135. Plaintiffs, therefore, are entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs.

  II. Reasonableness of Attorneys' Fees

  Having determined that plaintiffs are entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees, this court must now turn its attention to the appropriate measure of those fees. This circuit has generally employed the following three-part framework to evaluate the reasonableness of fee awards: "`(1) determination of the number of hours reasonably expended in litigation; (2) determination of a reasonable hourly rate or "lodestar"; and (3) the use of multipliers as merited.'" Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (quoting Save Our Cumberland Mountains, Inc. v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516, 1517 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (en banc) (citation omitted)). "While the [c]ourt is empowered to exercise its discretion in determining the fee amount, the plaintiff still bears the burden of establishing all elements of the requested fee award, including entitlement to an award, documentation of appropriate hours, and justifications of the reasonableness of the billing." Smith v. District of Columbia, No. Civ. A.02-373, 2005 WL 914773, at *2 (D.D.C. Apr. 18, 2005) (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 896 (1984)).

  A. Hours Reasonably Expended

  Plaintiffs may satisfy their burden of demonstrating that the number of hours expended on particular tasks was reasonable "by submitting invoices that are sufficiently detailed to `permit the District Court to make an independent determination whether or not the hours claimed are justified.'" Kaseman v. District of Columbia, 329 F. Supp. 2d 20, 26 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Def., 675 F.2d 1319, 1327 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). Plaintiffs in this case have submitted a detailed invoice for the hours expended as a result of the improper removal. Plaintiffs' Submission with Respect to Costs and Attorneys' Fees ("Pls'. Sub.").

  In Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Costs and Attorney's Fees ("Def's. Resp."), defendant argues that it was unreasonable for plaintiffs to spend 37.8 hours litigating the removal. Defendant begins by stating that the issue of diversity is "neither novel nor complex" and therefore does not justify the hours claimed by plaintiffs. Def's. Resp. at 4. Defendant then points out that, in plaintiffs' Statement of Points and Authorities, plaintiffs cited a Memorandum of Points and Authorities prepared by defendants for a two-year-old California case, Steadfast Insurance Co. v. Allianz Insurance Co. Id. This is significant, defendant claims, because the Steadfast memorandum "provided [p]laintiffs with a road map as to how to challenge a suit brought on diversity grounds. . . ." Id. "It is ironic," defendant concludes, "that after relying on [d]efendant's work product in Steadfast to defeat [d]efendant here, [p]laintiffs now seek $13,218.72 in fees and costs for the same." Id. at 4-5.

  While the court agrees with defendant that there is a certain irony permeating the parties' recent filings, the court must differ with defendant as to its source. If the issue of diversity is "neither novel nor complex," as defendant claims, defendant should certainly have been able to avoid the improper removal of the case. In addition, it was defendant's failure to read its own "road map" that gave rise to the expenses they now contest as "unreasonable." Finally, and perhaps most baffling of all, are defendant's inconsistent statements regarding the ultimate usefulness of the Steadfast memorandum. In its response to plaintiffs' initial statement of costs, defendant states that the memorandum "addressed the identical issues" as plaintiffs' filing in the instant case, and "certainly should have saved [plaintiffs] substantial time in researching and drafting their motion." Def's. Resp. at 4. However, in Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Submission with Respect to Costs and Attorney's Fees ("Def's. Resp. Sub."), defendant states that "[p]laintiffs added superfluous, and expensive, window-dressing to their motion by obtaining original briefs filed by Truck in an unrelated case in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of California." Def's. Resp. Sub. at 2. Defendant goes on to state that "[t]his costly effort in no way advanced resolution of the issue in this case . . . and merely piled on additional costs beyond that which was necessary to make the argument." Id. In other words, defendant seems to claim that plaintiffs' compensation should be reduced because their reliance on the Steadfast memo should have saved them considerable time and expense, while in the same breath argues that any time plaintiffs spent procuring the memo was wasteful.

  This court finds no merit in any of the above arguments. Plaintiffs are entitled to seek any information that they believe will benefit their case, and argument in the alternative is standard practice. However, the court does find that the number of partner hours spent on the matter (11.7), as compared to the number of associate hours spent on the matter (26.0), is excessive. After all, a partner should be performing supervisory work and should not need to expend almost half of the time spent by an associate on a particular matter. The court will therefore reduce the ...


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