United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For DEMETRA BAYLOR, Plaintiff: Radi Dennis, LEAD ATTORNEY, CONSUMER JUSTICE ESQ, Washington, DC.
For MITCHELL RUBENSTEIN & ASSOCIATES, P.C., Defendant: Birgit Dachtera Stuart, Ronald S. Canter, LEAD ATTORNEYS, LAW OFFICES OF RONALD S. CANTER, LLC, Rockville, MD.
AMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge.
Pending before the Court is the Report and Recommendation issued by Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson granting in part plaintiff's two motions for attorney's fees and costs for work completed in furtherance of plaintiff's successful claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. Report & Recommendation (Oct. 24, 2014) [Dkt. # 45]. Both parties objected to the Report and Recommendation. Def.'s Objections to Report & Recommendation [Dkt. # 46] (" Def.'s Objections" ); Pl.'s Objections to Report & Recommendation [Dkt. # 47] (" Pl.'s Objections" ). After considering the Report and Recommendation and the parties' filings, in light of the applicable standard, the Court will adopt the Report and Recommendation in its entirety. The Court will therefore grant plaintiff's motions for attorney's fees in part and will deny them in part, and will enter judgment for fees in the amount of $41,989.80, plus post-judgment interest.
The underlying litigation centers on plaintiff's claim that defendant engaged in harassing and deceptive debt collection practices in violation of the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., the District of Columbia Debt Collection Law (DCDCL), D.C. Code § 28-3814 et seq., and the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, D.C. Code § 28-3901 et seq. See Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. On February 7, 2014, after the parties briefed defendant's motion to dismiss, plaintiff accepted defendant's Rule 68 offer of judgment as to plaintiff's federal claim only. Pl.'s Notice of Acceptance of Def.'s Rule 68 Offer of Judgment [Dkt. # 11]. The Clerk of Court entered judgment in plaintiff's favor " in the amount of $1,001.00 plus costs and expenses together with reasonable attorney fees for all claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." Judgment on Offer & Acceptance [Dkt. # 14].
Plaintiff then filed a motion pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3) seeking $442.95 in costs and $155,700.00 in attorney's fees for 346 hours of work on plaintiff's successful FDCPA claim at the " prevailing market rate" of $450.00 per hour. Pl.'s Mot. for Award of Att'y's Fees and Costs [Dkt. # 15] at 2; Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Award of Att'y's Fees and Costs [Dkt. # 15] (" Pl.'s 1st Fee Mot." ) at 12. Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.2, the Court referred the matter to a magistrate judge for preparation of a report and recommendation. Order Referring Mot. for Att'y's Fees (Mar. 24, 2014) [Dkt. # 18]. Defendant opposed plaintiff's fee motion, arguing that plaintiff's fees were " grossly and intolerably exaggerated," and requested that the Court deny plaintiff's request in its entirety. Def.'s Opp. to Pl.'s 1st Fee Mot. [Dkt. # 20] (" Def.'s 1st Fee Opp." ) at 1. Plaintiff subsequently requested additional fees for drafting and filing her reply to defendant's opposition, bringing her fee request to $195,332.00 for work expended
on the complaint, the opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss, and the fee petition and reply. Pl.'s Reply Mem. to Def.'s 1st Fee Opp. [Dkt. # 21] (" Pl.'s 1st Fee Reply" ) at 1.
In July 2014, the Court granted in part and denied in part defendant's motion to dismiss, leaving only two of plaintiff's claims under the DCDCL intact and dismissing the remainder of plaintiff's state law claims. Order (July 8, 2014) [Dkt. # 26]; Mem. Op. (July 8, 2014) [Dkt. # 27]. In August 2014, defendant filed a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Federal Rule 60(b)(5), arguing that the FDCPA judgment had been satisfied. Def.'s Mot. for Relief from J. [Dkt. # 34]. Plaintiff opposed the motion. Pl.'s Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Relief from J. [Dkt. # 37]. The Court denied defendant's motion and noted that:
[B]oth parties have insisted upon cluttering the docket with pleadings that fall outside the ordinary motion, opposition, and reply called for by the federal and local rules. There would be little justification for the these sorts of excessive, repetitive, and unnecessarily sharp pleadings in any case, but in this case in particular, given the nature of the allegations and the amounts at stake, there has been a particularly striking expenditure of effort and resources on both sides that has tried the Court's patience and wasted the Court's time.
Order (Sept. 11, 2014) [Dkt. # 41] at 2. The Court then permitted plaintiff " to amend her motion for attorney's fees only to include the fees incurred in connection with her opposition to defendant's motion for relief [from judgment], but not her proposed surreply." Id. at 2-3.
In response to the Court's order, plaintiff submitted an amendment to her original fee request, seeking an additional $19,440.00 for 43.20 hours expended in responding to defendant's motion for relief from judgment. Amendment to Pl.'s 1st Fee Mot. [Dkt. # 42] (" Pl.'s 2nd Fee Mot." ). Defendant opposed plaintiff's amended request, despite the fact that it was explicitly permitted by the Court, and again argued that plaintiff's fee award should be eliminated or drastically reduced because " [t]he time claimed by the Plaintiff reflects 'grossly excessive hours.'" Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Supp. Fee Petition [Dkt. # 43] (" Def.'s 2nd Fee Opp." ) at 2, quoting Bell v. Prefix, Inc., 784 F.Supp.2d 778, 783 (E.D. Mich. 2011). Plaintiff, after professing to be " perplexed" by defendant's filing and considerate of the Court's admonition to stop " cluttering the docket," nevertheless filed a six-page reply to defendant's two-page opposition, and requested an additional $5,940.00 for the 13.20 hours spent drafting that document. Pl.'s Reply to Def.'s 2nd Fee Opp. [Dkt. # 44].
After considering the parties' many pleadings, Magistrate Judge Robinson issued a Report and Recommendation on October 24, 2014, recommending that plaintiff's initial fee request of $195,332.00 be reduced by eighty-five percent because: (1) the hours requested for drafting and filing the complaint, the opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss, and the fee petition were significantly more than would reasonably be required for that amount of work, Report & Recommendation at 8-9; (2) plaintiff included in her request hours expended on the District of Columbia law claims, on which plaintiff did not prevail, id. at 9; (3) " some of the hours [plaintiff] expended had no purpose in the context of the status of this action" because the work was performed after defendant had already offered to accept judgment on the FDCPA claims, id. at 9-10;
and (4) plaintiff's counsel failed to " heed the Court's admonition to refrain from filing submissions that are 'unnecessarily enlarge[d] with sharp attacks' on the opposing party and counsel.'" Id. at 10, quoting Minute Order (Feb. 11, 2014). The report also recommended reducing the 56.40 hours claimed in the second fee request by fifty percent, to 28.20 hours at the requested rate of $450 per hour, because plaintiff's counsel " again engaged in the tactics against which the Court cautioned, thus expending considerable unproductive activity." Id. at 11. In total, then, the Magistrate Judge recommended awarding plaintiff $41,989.80 in attorney's fees: $29,299.80 for the first fee request and $12,690.00 for the second fee request. The report also recommended awarding plaintiff all requested costs and post-judgment interest. Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) and Local Rule 72.2, a court may refer nondispositive matters, including the award of attorney's fees, to a Magistrate Judge for resolution. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); LCvR 72.2(a). Upon referral, the Magistrate Judge " must promptly conduct the required proceedings and, when appropriate, issue a written order stating the decision." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also LCvR 72.2(a). Once the Magistrate Judge issues his or her decision, any party may raise objections to that decision within fourteen days " after being served with the order." LCvR 72.2(b); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). The district court shall review " timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also LCvR 72.2(c). " Under that deferential standard, a magistrate judge's factual findings or discretionary decisions must be affirmed unless, 'although there is evidence to support [them], the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'" Am. Ctr. for Civil Justice v. Ambush, 794 F.Supp.2d 123, 129 (D.D.C. 2011), quoting Federal Sav. & Loan Ins. Corp. v. Commonwealth Land Title Ins. Co., 130 F.R.D. 507, 508 (D.D.C. 1990).
I. Attorney's Fees