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Debra Dorsey v. Jacobson Holman

March 30, 2012

DEBRA DORSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JACOBSON HOLMAN, PLLC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Debra Dorsey has prevailed in this litigation on a claim for profit sharing under an ERISA plan*fn1 and a claim under the D.C. Wage Payment and Collection Law, D.C. Code § 32-1303. Both statutes contain fee shifting provisions, and she now moves for attorney fees and costs. Ms. Dorsey's claims for COBRA benefits*fn2 and for retaliation and interference with FMLA and DCFMLA*fn3 rights were dismissed. Defendants seek leave to file a motion for attorney fees and costs on those claims. As explained below, Ms. Dorsey's motion will be granted and Defendants' motion will be denied.

I. FACTS

Suffering from carpel tunnel syndrome, Ms. Dorsey took leave from her position as a secretary at the law firm of Jacobson Holman, PLLC, in order to undergo surgery on her wrists. Although the firm treated her absence as protected under the FMLA and DCFMLA and it approved an application for disability insurance, Ms. Dorsey was denied various employment benefits and was later terminated. As a result, she filed a complaint alleging:

Count I -- failure to make a year-end contribution to the Jacobson Holman PLLC Profit Sharing Plan ("Profit Sharing Plan") on her behalf;

Count II -- denial of COBRA benefits through failure to recognize her right to subsidized COBRA premiums under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-5, 123 Stat. 115 (2009);*fn4

Count III -- (a) failure to pay a 2007 year-end bonus and (b) failure to pay accumulated vacation leave, both in violation of the D.C. Wage Payment and Collection Law; and Count IV -- retaliation via termination of her employment and interference regarding her rights in violation of FMLA and DCFMLA.

Second Am. Compl. [Dkt. #28]. Defendants are: Jacobson Holman, PLLC; the law firm's Profit Sharing Plan; and John C. Holman, Plan Administrator. Ms. Dorsey prevailed on Counts I (profit sharing) and III(a) (unpaid leave) only.

Ms. Dorsey prevailed on Count I, as the Court found that Defendants breached the Profit Sharing Plan by refusing to treat Ms. Dorsey as an active employee on December 31, 2007, and thereby failing to make a year-end contribution for her to the Plan. Mem. Op. [Dkt. #43] at 8-9. Ms. Dorsey also prevailed on her claim for unpaid leave under Count III. Defendants agreed to pay the amount of unpaid leave, $173.46. See Notice of Offer of Judgment [Dkt. # 26]. Ms. Dorsey did not accept the offer, but the Court awarded Ms. Dorsey damages on Count I in the amount offered, $173.46. The Court also awarded damages on Claim IIIa for failure to pay profit sharing in the amount of $1100.00. See Rev. Order of J. [Dkt. # 54].

Defendants prevailed on Counts II, the remainder of Count III, and Count IV. The Court dismissed Count II because Ms. Dorsey had not exhausted her administrative remedies at the U.S. Department of Labor. See Order [Dkt. #41] at 2. Further, the Court granted summary judgment to Defendants on Ms. Dorsey's claim for a bonus under Count III and her claims for retaliation and interference under Count IV. Mem. Op. [Dkt. #43] at 10-13.

Ms. Dorsey seeks an award of attorney fees and costs. Defendants oppose and seek leave to request fees and costs on the dismissal of Count II, the COBRA claim.

II. ANALYSIS

Ordinarily, the American Rule applies to claims for attorney fees. Fresh Kist Produce L.L.C. v. Choi Corp. Inc., 362 F. Supp. 2d 118, 125 (D.D.C. 2005). Under this Rule, each party bears its own attorney fees, absent an explicit statutory basis for awarding fees, id., or absent a contractual basis for awarding fees. McGuire v. Russell Miller, ...


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