United States District Court, District of Columbia
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL, UNION NATIONAL INDUSTRY PENSION FUND, et al., Plaintiffs,
CASTLE HILL HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS, LLC, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
P. Mehta United States District Judge
Service Employees International Union National Industry
Pension Fund (“the Pension Fund”), a
multiemployer pension plan, and its Trustees (collectively,
“Plaintiffs”) brought an action against
Defendants Castle Hill Healthcare Providers, LLC and Alaris
Health LLC (collectively, “Defendants”) under the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act
(“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.
Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants breached their obligations
under the parties' collective bargaining agreements by
failing to produce remittance reports and make contribution
payments, as well as violated the Pension Protection Act of
2006 (“PPA”), Pub. L. No. 109-280, 120 Stat. 780
(2006), by failing to pay surcharges and supplemental
contributions for those years in which the Pension Fund was
in “critical status.” See Compl., ECF
No. 1, at 5- 8. Plaintiffs sought various forms of relief,
including: (1) a declaration that Defendants were delinquent
in remitting owed contributions to the Pension Fund; (2) a
judgment requiring Defendants to pay delinquent
contributions, interest, liquidated damages, surcharges owed
under the PPA, and attorney's fees and costs; and (3) a
permanent injunction requiring Defendants to timely file
remittance reports and pay all owed contributions as they
become due. See Id. at 9-12.
court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment and
ordered Defendants to disclose particular remittance reports
and Plaintiffs, following receipt of those reports, to submit
supplemental briefing on the final damages award sought.
See Mem. Op. & Order, ECF No. 27, at 15-16. The
court subsequently entered a final judgment against
Defendants for $38, 872.82 for all delinquent contributions,
interest, liquidated damages, PPA surcharges and fees owed,
plus additional pre- and post-judgment interest. See
Order & Final J., ECF No. 32, at 2. The court retained
jurisdiction to award attorney's fees and costs.
Id. at 3.
before the court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys'
Fees and Costs. After thorough review of the evidence
submitted, the court grants Plaintiffs' Motion in part
and denies it in part.
seek $31, 070.50 in attorney's fees for 162.4 hours of
work performed between February 28, 2014, and April 12, 2016,
as well as $501.20 in court costs, for a total award of $31,
571.70. See Pls.' Mot. for Att'ys' Fees
& Costs, ECF No. 36 [hereinafter Pls.' Mot.], at 3;
Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1B, ECF No. 36-1, at 30-31. Defendants do
not dispute that Plaintiffs are entitled to attorney's
fees and costs under ERISA, but they do contest whether the
amount of fees Plaintiffs seek is “reasonable.”
See 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g).
calculate reasonable attorney's fees, the court
multiplies a reasonable number of hours worked by a
reasonable hourly rate and then, if necessary, adjusts the
sum downward or upward. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S.
886, 888 (1984); Role Models Am., Inc. v. Brownlee,
353 F.3d 962, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1994); Serv. Emps. Int'l
Union Nat'l Indus. Pension Fund v. Bristol Manor
Healthcare Ctr., No. 12-cv-01904, 2016 WL 3636970, at *3
(D.D.C. June 30, 2016). The party seeking fees bears the
burden of proving that its request is reasonable, “and
the opposing party remains ‘free to rebut a fee
claim.'” Eley v. District of Columbia, 793
F.3d 97, 100 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Covington v.
District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107-08 (D.C. Cir.
1995)). To meet its burden, the moving party may submit
“supporting documentation [that is] ‘. . . of
sufficient detail and probative value to enable the court to
determine with a high degree of certainty that such hours
were actually and reasonably expended.'” Role
Models, 353 F.3d at 970 (quoting In re Olson,
884 F.2d 1415, 1428 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (per curiam)).
only issue before the court is whether Plaintiffs'
counsel expended an unreasonable number of hours in this
litigation. Defendants assert that the fee award
should be “substantially reduced” because (1)
Plaintiffs “block billed” many of their billing
entries, meaning they listed several distinct tasks in one
billing entry; (2) certain billing entries are duplicative;
(3) the number of hours expended for certain tasks was
excessive; and (4) Plaintiffs' counsel inappropriately
billed for time spent correcting a filing error. See
Defs.' Mem. in Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. for
Att'ys' Fees & Costs, ECF No. 37 [hereinafter
Defs.' Opp'n], at 4-6. In light of these four faults,
Defendants contend, Plaintiffs cannot “satisfy their
burden of demonstrating with a high degree of certainty the
reasonableness of their fee request.” Id. at
5. After thoroughly reviewing the briefs and evidence
submitted, the court concludes Plaintiffs have satisfied
their burden of demonstrating to a high degree of certainty
that the number of hours their counsel billed was reasonable,
except as to those hours spent correcting and refiling an
exhibit to the Complaint.
respect to Defendants' allegations regarding
Plaintiffs' counsel's “block billing, ”
the court is satisfied with the billing entries submitted.
Though several billing entries list multiple tasks, the court
readily can discern that those tasks included in the block
entries not only all pertain to aspects of this litigation,
but also nearly all involve work on substantive motions for
this litigation. The only two entries Defendants specifically
challenge clearly pass muster in this regard. Moreover,
nowhere in the billing records has Plaintiffs' counsel
attempted to charge for administrative tasks or other client
matters. Cf. Role Models, 353 F.3d at 971.
extent Defendants argue that the number of hours expended is
excessive and the billing entries are duplicative, those
arguments are unpersuasive. Plaintiffs' counsel,
including all non-lawyer timekeepers, billed a total of 162.4
hours for the entirety of this matter, which roughly equates
to 40 hours per week over four weeks. This litigation took
more than two years to complete. During that time,
Plaintiffs' counsel, among other things, drafted a
complaint, moved for entry of default judgment after
Defendants failed to timely answer, filed a motion for
summary judgment, prepared a supplement to their motion for
summary judgment at the court's direction, and wrote
reply briefs in support of the motions and supplement. Each
pleading was supported by client affidavits, supporting
evidence, or both. Thus, securing a favorable final judgment
in this matter took Plaintiffs' counsel substantial time
challenge the total hours billed as excessive, citing in
particular the 83.7 hours spent to draft the summary judgment
motion and reply and the 25.9 hours spent to draft the
summary judgment supplement and reply. Defs.' Opp'n
at 4-5. The court finds neither sum to be unreasonable. The
summary judgment motion and reply brief were both substantive
pleadings, which, taken together, consisted of 25 pages of
legal argument, a 12-page statement of facts, three
declarations, and other supporting evidence. The supplement
consisted of 15 pages of legal argument, two more
declarations, and additional evidence. The court finds the
total time that Plaintiffs' counsel expended to research,
draft, and assemble those pleadings was reasonable. Nor can
Plaintiffs' counsel be accused of trying to run up fees
by relying on higher-billing partners to do the lion's
share of the work. To the contrary, the primary timekeeper in
this litigation was a young associate, see Pl.'s
Mot. at 2 (stating that associate with over two years'
experience billed 87.2 of the total 162.4 hours), whose
limited years of experience likely caused him to take
slightly longer-but at a lower hourly rate-to research,
draft, revise, and finalize the key pleadings in this case.
only “evidence” Defendants submit to support
their contention of excessive billing is an affidavit from
their own counsel. But defense counsel's statements are
not evidence; they are legal arguments, which Defendants
ultimately transcribed into their opposition brief without
further elaboration. Compare Defs.' Opp'n,
Ex. 1, ECF No. 37-1, ¶¶ 19-21, with
Defs.' Opp'n at 4-5. Similarly, although Defendants
charge that Plaintiffs' counsel's billing entries are
duplicative, they identify no allegedly duplicative entries.
See Def.'s Opp'n at 4. Accordingly, having
thoroughly reviewed Plaintiffs' counsel's billing
entries, see Pls.' Mot., Ex. 1A, ECF No. 36-1,
at 5-29 [hereinafter Billing Entries], the court is satisfied
that the number of hours expended was not excessive and the
billing entries are not duplicative.
Defendants dispute whether they should be required to pay for
time Plaintiffs' counsel spent correcting a filing error.
See Defs.' Opp'n at 5. The court agrees that
the amount charged for the correction is improper. Prior to
ruling on Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment, the
court alerted Plaintiffs of the need to refile an exhibit to
their Complaint-18 pages of summary payroll charts containing
Social Security Numbers-with redactions, as required under
Local Rule 5.4(f). See LCvR 5.4(f); Minute Order,
November 3, 2015. The billing entries reflect that counsel
spent 2.4 hours, in total, reviewing the court's Order
and the Local Rules, consulting one another, making the
necessary redactions, telephoning the Clerk's Office, and
refiling the exhibit. See Billing Entries at
Plaintiffs contend that they are entitled to payment because
their attorneys would have spent the same time making the
necessary redactions initially as they did after being
informed of the error. See Pls.' Reply to
Defs.' Opp'n, ECF No. 38, at 5. The court disagrees.
The 2.4 hours Plaintiffs' counsel charged to make this
simplistic redaction upon discovery-removing from view data
contained in single column in one exhibit-is an excessive
amount of time, and it would be unfair for ...