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M.R.S. Enterprises, Inc. v. Sheet Metal Workers' International Association

March 29, 2007

M.R.S. ENTERPRISES, INC., PLAINTIFF AND COUNTERCLAIM DEFENDANT,
v.
SHEET METAL WORKERS' INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 40; AND THE NATIONAL JOINT ADJUSTMENT BOARD FOR THE SHEET METAL INDUSTRY, DEFENDANTS AND COUNTERCLAIMANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

Before me is an application and supplemental application for attorneys' fees and expenses incurred by the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association, Local 40, defendant and counterclaimant (the "Union") in this action. In total, the Union seeks as much as $94,704 in fees and $1410.44 in expenses.

M.R.S Enterprises, Inc., plaintiff and counterclaim defendant ("M.R.S."), objects to the reasonableness of the fees on two grounds: (1) the hours expended by Union counsel were unreasonable, and (2) Union lawyers are seeking fees at hourly rates that are greater than those they charged their client.

I shall deal with each issue in turn, addressing, first, the specific objections of M.R.S. to various entries in the Union lawyers' time records.

I. The Reasonableness of the Hours Expended

A. Time Spent on Issues not Raised by M.R.S

M.R.S. first complains that Union counsel spent 31.5 hours preparing the Answer and Counterclaim, which included four hours on issues "that were not raised by the Plaintiff, including benefit funds and legal research in to (sic) the right to picket for an 8(f) agreement." Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant's Opposition to the Counterclaimant's Application for Attorney Fees ("Opp.") at 2.

There are many cases where a lawyer presumes she must cover issues and arguments that she reasonably believes may bear on the court's ultimate decision even though her opponent has not raised them. Thus, the true standard for disallowance of attorneys' fees would be the expenditure of time on issues and arguments that no reasonable lawyer would believe had any relevance or significance to her client's claims. I have reviewed the Answer and Complaint and I cannot say that the four hours spent on the legal issue of the right of unions to picket for what are called § 8(f) agreements were, on their face, so irrelevant and insignificant that addressing the issue was a waste of time. To the contrary, as Union counsel point out, the Union has to establish that, as a matter of law, it had the right to picket for such an agreement so that it could argue that it had given up the right to picket for a new § 8(f) agreement in return for what is called "interest arbitration." See Counterclaimant Sheet Metal Workers Local 40's Motion to Confirm Arbitration Award at 26. That argument is persuasive; indeed, M.R.S. did not even answer it.

Furthermore, I have indicated that the proper standard to determine if the time spent on a particular issue was reasonable is whether a reasonable lawyer would have devoted time and effort to that issue, even though his opponent did not raise it. I have reviewed the briefs carefully and I cannot find that, under the standard I have articulated, no reasonable lawyer would have devoted the time and effort that Union counsel did to the issue M.R.S. now protests.

B. Call to Representatives of Benefit Funds

M.R.S. takes exception to a half-hour phone call from Union counsel to "Eileen Marks" on October 24, 2005. Union counsel explain that the call was necessary for proper consideration of whether their client, the Union, should "urge the benefit funds*fn1 to intervene, or whether the Union should avoid delay and seek to have the award enforced first." Counterclaimant Sheet Metal Workers Local 40's Reply to M.R.S. Enterprises' Opposition to Application for Attorneys' Fees, at 3. I cannot possibly describe counsel's doing that as a waste of time; to the contrary, it was legitimate for Union counsel to consider the tactical advantages and disadvantages of asking the benefit funds to intervene.

C. Hours Spent Reviewing Opinion

M.R.S. also takes exception to Union counsel charging 20 hours to read Judge Kollar-Kotelly's decision in this case and to Union counsel spending "over 20 hours talking to each other on the telephone or in e-mail communications." Opp. at 2. But, as Union counsel point out, the vast majority of entries that contain references to telephone conferences, email communications, or to reviewing the judge's order also specify what other things counsel did in addition to telephone conversations, emails, and reviewing the judge's order. Having reviewed each entry, I cannot find that the time claimed for the protested ...


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