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Woodland v. Viacom Inc.

November 25, 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.

I initially granted defendant's petition in the full amount requested, but have since determined that I did so under a mistaken assumption. Consequently, I vacated that Judgment and accompanying Memorandum Opinion. There was attached to defendant's initial submission a document, identified as Exhibit A, entitled "Laffey Matrix." I incorrectly assumed that this was the Laffey Matrix as published by the Civil Division of the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. I have now realized it is not. It is the Laffey Matrix which is adjusted upward by the "nationwide legal services component of the Consumer Price Index." Miller v. Holzmann, 575 F. Supp. 2d 2, 13 (D.D.C. 2008). While one judge of this Court has accepted this upward adjustment, others, including myself, have not.*fn1 As Chief Judge Lamberth has stated of the methodology that adjusts the Laffey matrix upward:

Unlike the USAO's matrix, which calculates inflation based on the metropolitan D.C. Consumer Price Index ("CPI"), Kavanaugh's version relies on a legal services sub-component of the broader, national CPI. (See Kavanaugh Decl. ¶ 9, Ex. 4 to Mot. for Fees, Costs, and Expenses [930].)

Kavanaugh's alternative methodology has achieved only limited acceptance in this District. As he did in Salazar, Kavanaugh presents a well-reasoned, if condensed, economic argument for his index's superiority. (See id. ¶¶ 9-14.) Nevertheless, after reviewing his declarations, the Court is not convinced. Kavanaugh's matrix incorporates price inflation data specific to the market for legal services, while the USAO matrix relies on data specific to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. (Id. ¶ 9.) Kavanaugh's matrix thus reflects national inflation trends, while the USAO matrix accounts for price inflation within the local community--a crucial distinction. As the Supreme Court and our Court of Appeals have both emphasized, rates used in calculating the lodestar should accord with those "prevailing in the community." Blum, 465 U.S. [886,] 896 n.11 [(1984)] (emphasis added); see alsoCovington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1108 (D.C. Cir. 1995) ("plaintiff must produce data concerning the prevailing market rates in the relevant community") (emphasis added). Kavanaugh's matrix does not comply with this mandate for geographic specificity. Hence, with due respect to its colleagues, the Court declines to adopt Kavanaugh's methodology.

Miller, 575 F. Supp. 2d at 17-18. My earlier opinion concluded that the rates that defendant's counsel charged their client were unquestionably reasonable because they were below the prevailing "Laffey Rates," taking on faith that the rates submitted to the Court were the ones adopted by the Court. As the rates published by the U.S. Attorney's Office, which are the rates I recognize, are lower than the rates at issue here, my initial rationale for upholding those fees cannot stand. Accordingly, this Memorandum Opinion revisits the issue of the reasonableness of the hourly rate charged in this case.

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)); Miller, 575 F. Supp. 2d at 12 n.20.

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 ...


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