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Woodland v. Viacom Inc.

November 24, 2008

ANTOINETTE WOODLAND, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VIACOM INC., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

In a Memorandum Order [# 33] dated March 6, 2008, this Court ordered that plaintiff pay all reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred by defendant in filing Defendant Viacom Inc.'s Motion to Compel Plaintiff's Responses to Defendant's Discovery Requests ("Def. Mot.") [# 17]. Order (3/6/08) at 2. I have before me defendant's Affidavit of John S. Ferrer Itemizing Attorneys' Fees and Costs Incurred by Defendant ("Affidavit") [# 34] and plaintiff's Opposition to the Reasonableness of Defendant's Request for Attorney's Fees ("Opposition") [# 35]. This case has been referred to me for management of discovery. Referral Order [# 24] at 1. The present issue is a determination of the amount of reimbursement due.

I. Background

On August 1, 2007, this Court denied in part as moot Defendant Viacom Inc.'s Motion to Compel Plaintiff's Responses to Defendant's Discovery Requests. Order (8/1/07). This Court ordered plaintiff to show cause why she should not be ordered to pay the fees and costs that defendant incurred in bringing the motion to compel due to plaintiff's missing a deadline. Id.

On August 15, 2007, plaintiff responded to the Court's order and filed a Response to this Court's Show Cause Order [# 27]. Defendant filed Defendant Viacom Inc.'s Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Order to Show Cause [# 29] on August 29, 2007. In a Memorandum Order, this Court ordered that plaintiff pay to defendant the fees and expenses incurred in filing the motion to compel. Order (3/6/08) at 2. The Court also ordered defendant to file a petition seeking fees and expenses, accompanied by business records that support the amount sought, within ten business days. Id. The Court permitted plaintiff to file an opposition, limited to the reasonableness of the fees and costs, no later than ten business days after the filing of defendant's petition. Id. Thereafter, defendant filed an Affidavit on March 20, 2008 and, in response, plaintiff filed an Opposition on March 31, 2008. Defendant seeks $2,246.98 in attorneys' fees. Affidavit at 3. Defendant did not incur and, thus, does not seek any additional costs. Id.

II. Analysis

In calculating plaintiff's fee award, the Court must determine: (1) the reasonableness of the hourly rate charged; and (2) the reasonableness of the hours expended on the litigation. Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995).

1. The Reasonableness of the Hourly Rate Charged

In this Circuit, "an attorney's usual billing rate is presumptively the reasonable rate, provided that this rate is 'in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.'" Kattan ex rel. Kattan v. District of Columbia, 995 F.2d 274, 278 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984)). Accord Miller v. Holzmann, 575 F. Supp. 2d 2, 12 n.20 (D.D.C. 2008).

According to the Affidavit, John S. Ferrer prepared the motion to compel along with attorneys Grace E. Speights and Stephanie L. Hankin. Statement of Attorneys' Fees and Costs Incurred in Connection with Motion to Compel Plaintiff's Responses to Defendant's Discovery Requests in Antoinette Woodland v. Viacom, Inc., Case No: 05-1611 (PLF/JMF), Exhibit B to Affidavit ("Exhibit B"). Morgan, Lewis & Bockius charged defendant for work completed by Speights, Ferrer, and Hankin, on preparing the motion to compel, at a rate of $690/hr, $420/hr, and $295/hr, respectively, less a 15% discount. Affidavit at 2-3. Therefore, Morgan Lewis charged $586.5/hr, $357/hr, and $250.75/hr for work completed by Speights, Ferrer, and Hankin, respectively because the client was granted the discount from the firm's ordinary billing rates. At the time the motion to compel was filed, Speights was a partner at Morgan Lewis and was 24 years out of law school, Ferrer was an associate at Morgan Lewis and was ten years out of law school, and Hankin was an associate at Morgan Lewis and was one year out of law school. See Affidavit at 2.

Defendant claims the hourly rates charged are reasonable within the D.C. market and refers the Court to the Laffey Matrix.*fn1 Affidavit at 1. In opposition, plaintiff argues that defendant had not provided the Court with sufficient evidence to show that the hourly rates charged are reasonable. Plaintiff argues that the evidence is insufficient because defendant did not supply enough information on the attorneys' level of skill and experience, did not identify the attorneys' customary fee, and only compared the fees charged by the attorneys with fees listed in the Laffey Matrix. Opposition at 2-3.

This Court, however, "looks to the Laffey rates as establishing the market rates for lawyers in this jurisdiction." M.R.S. Enter., Inc. v. Sheet Metal Workers' Int'l Ass'n, No. 05-civ-1823, 2007 WL 950071 at *3 n.3 (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2007) (citing Lopez v. District of Columbia, 383 F. Supp. 2d 18, 24 (D.D.C. 2003)). As Chief Judge Lamberth has recently stated:

In 1983, then-Chief Judge Aubrey Robinson adopted an hourly rates scheme for complex, federal litigation under which an attorney's years of experiences determined his reasonable hourly rate. Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 572 F. Supp. 354, 371-75 (D.D.C. 1983). In the ensuing twenty-five years, this scheme, the Laffey matrix, has achieved broad ...


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