United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is before the Court on remand from the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In accordance with the
Circuit's opinion of May 30, 2017, the Court must now
determine the appropriate amount of attorney's fees to be
awarded to plaintiff in this case.
December 17, 2013, plaintiff Demetra Baylor brought this case
against defendant Mitchell Rubenstein & Associates, P.C.,
alleging that defendant violated various provisions of the
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"),
15U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., the D.C. Debt
Collection Law, D.C. Code § 28-3814 et seq.,
and the D.C. Consumer Protection and Procedures Act, D.C.
Code § 28-3901 et seq. Compl. [Dkt. # 1]
¶¶ 28-48. On February 7, 2014, while
defendant's motion to dismiss was pending, plaintiff
accepted defendant's Rule 68 offer of judgment on the
federal claim "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."
Pl.'s Notice of Acceptance of Def's Rule 68 Offer of
J. [Dkt. #11];see also J. on Offer & Acceptance
response to defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss
for failure to state a claim, a number of the D.C. claims
were dismissed. See Baylor v. Mitchell Rubenstein &
Assocs., P.C., 55 F.Supp.3d 43, 55 (D.D.C. 2014).
Plaintiffs claims under sections 28-3814(f)(5) and
28-3814(g)(5) of the D.C. Debt Collection Law survived,
though, and the parties engaged in discovery.
August 2015, defendant moved for summary judgment on those
two claims, and plaintiff cross-moved for partial summary
judgment. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 84]; Pl.'s
Partial Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 91]. The Court granted
summary judgment in favor of defendant after finding that
there was no genuine dispute of material fact as to whether
defendant acted willfully in connection with any inaccurate
communications covered by the Debt Collection Law. Baylor
v. Mitchell Rubenstein & Assocs., P.C., 174
F.Supp.3d 146, 149 (D.D.C. 2016). This judgment was upheld on
appeal. See Baylor v. Mitchell Rubenstein & Assocs.,
P.C., 857 F.3d 939, 951 (D.C. Cir. 2017).
other words, plaintiff has succeeded on one claim in her
three-count complaint. On March 12, 2014, after the
resolution of the federal claim, plaintiff filed a motion for
attorney's fees under the fee-shifting provision of the
FDCPA for her counsel's work on that claim. Pl.'s
Mot. for Award of Att'y's Fees & Costs [Dkt. #
15] ("Pl.'s 1st Fee Mot."); Pl.'s Mem. in
Supp. of Mot. for Award of Att'y's Fees & Costs
[Dkt. # 15-1] ("Pl.'s 1st Fee Mem."). The
motion originally sought $155, 700.00 in attorney's fees
and $442.95 in costs for 346 hours of work. Pl.'s 1st Fee
Mot. at 2. Plaintiff amended her request for fees multiple
times thereafter, arriving ultimately at a request for $220,
712.00 in attorney's fees and $442.95 in costs.
Court referred the matter to a Magistrate Judge for
preparation of a Report and Recommendation under Local Civil
Rule 72.2. Order Referring Mot. for Att'y's Fees
[Dkt. #18]; see LCvR 72.2 ("At the request of
the district judge to whom the case is assigned, a magistrate
judge may hear and determine any pretrial motion or matter .
. . ."); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a) (permitting referral of
nondispositive matters to a magistrate judge and providing
for modification where report is "clearly erroneous or
is contrary to law"). After reviewing the matter, the
Magistrate Judge recommended that the award be reduced to a
total of $41, 989.80 because the requested fees were
significantly higher than reasonable. Baylor v. Mitchell
Rubenstein & Assocs., P.C., No. 13-01995, 2014 WL
7014280, at *6 (D.D.C. Oct. 24, 2014). The Magistrate Judge
also recommended awarding plaintiff all requested costs and
postjudgment interest. Id.
parties objected to the Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendation. Def.'s Objs. to R & R. [Dkt. #46]
("Def.'s Objs."); Pl.'s Objs. to R. & R
[Dkt. # 47] ("Pl.'s Objs"). The Court, applying
the "clearly erroneous standard" set out in Local
Rule 72.2, observed that the award was "quite generous,
" but it upheld the award under that standard.
Baylor v. Mitchell Rubenstein & Assocs., P.C.,
77 F.Supp.3d 113, 121 (D.D.C. 2015); see also LCvR
72.2(c) ("[A] district judge may modify or set aside any
portion of a magistrate judge's order . . . found to be
clearly erroneous or contrary to law."). Both sides
appealed the Court's decision - plaintiffs counsel
claimed the award was too low, and defendant claimed it was
appeal, the D.C. Circuit determined that since Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2)(D) provides that a Court
"may refer a motion for attorney's fees to a
magistrate judge under Rule 72(b) as if it were a dispositive
pretrial matter, " a ruling on a motion for
attorney's fees must be evaluated under Rule 72(b)'s
standard, "which requires that a district judge
'determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's
disposition that has been properly objected to.'"
Baylor, 857 F.3d at 945, quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
72(b)(3). The matter was then remanded to this Court to
undertake a de novo review of the request for
thorough reconsideration of the original motion for
attorney's fees and supporting materials, the amendments
to the original motion, all of the oppositions and replies on
the docket, the materials submitted to the Court by both
parties challenging the Magistrate Judge's decision, and
the entire record in this case, the Court has determined in
an exercise of its discretion that defendant must pay
attorney's fees in the amount of $17, 000.00, plus
postjudgment interest, and
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides, in pertinent
part, that "in the case of any successful action [by a
person] to enforce [a debt collector's liability under
the Act], " the debt collector "is liable to such
person . . . [for] the costs of the action, together with a
reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the
court." 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a). Ordinarily, courts
utilize the "lodestar" method for calculating an
initial estimate of fees, which requires multiplying
"the number of hours reasonably expended on the
litigation  by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley
v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983).
party seeking fees has the burden of establishing the
reasonableness of any fee request. Covington v. Dist. of
Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995). The party
must establish a reasonable hourly rate by providing
information regarding the attorney's billing practices,
the attorney's skill, experience, and reputation, as well
as the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.
Id. And the party must demonstrate that the hours
expended on the litigation were reasonable by showing that
the time was productive and not duplicative. See Envtl.
Def. Fund, Inc. v. Reilly, 1 F.3d 1254, 1258 (D.C. Cir.
making the initial fee calculation, the court "should
exclude . . . hours that were not 'reasonably expended,
'" such as for work that is "excessive,
redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Hensley,
461 U.S. at 434. Further, the court may consider a variety of
factors to determine if the overall fee award should be
adjusted "upward or downward, including the important
factor of the 'results obtained.'"
Id. "There is no precise rule or formula
for making these determinations. The district court may
attempt to identify specific hours that should be eliminated,
or it may simply reduce an award to account for the limited
success. The court necessarily has discretion in making this
equitable judgment." Id. at 436-37.
years, as this Court has noted previously, attorney's
fees have been the tail wagging the dog in this case. Counsel
filed a complaint and secured for her client the $1001.00
statutory damages on plaintiffs federal claim, but she was
completely unsuccessful with respect to all of the other
claims. The majority of plaintiff s state law claims were
dismissed, and only her claims under sections 28-3814(f)(5)
and 28-3814(g)(5) of the D.C. Debt Collection Law survived
defendant's motion to dismiss. See Baylor, 55
F.Supp.3d at 55. Discovery, which should have been relatively
circumscribed given the limited nature of the remaining
allegations, was wide ranging and marked by extraordinary
contentiousness, all of which does little to alleviate the
impression that the litigation was largely driven by fees.
is no doubt that counsel invested time and effort at the
outset to vindicate the rights of her client, and that
therefore, under the statute, she is entitled to some
compensation for the work she performed to draft the
complaint and some of the effort to either settle or litigate
the matter thereafter. But the Court agrees completely with
the concurring opinion filed by the Circuit Judge in this
case that the fee request was not reasonable. See
Baylor, 857 F.3d at 955 (Henderson, J., concurring). It
is clear from this Court's January 2015 decision adopting
the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that while the
Court was aware of the scope of a judge's discretion when
awarding fees, it felt constrained by its understanding at
the time that it was required to apply a clearly erroneous
standard and reduce the award only if it was contrary to law.
See Baylor, 77 F.Supp.3d at 118-19. But those
constraints no longer apply.
at the matter de novo, though, the Court finds that
the fee request was excessive in light of the limited work
that was necessary to achieve plaintiffs minimal success in
this case. Therefore, the fees will be reduced substantially.
Moreover, the Court does not find it to be a reasonable
exercise of its discretion to require the defense to pay for
the time counsel chose to invest in pursuing the excessive
fees, and therefore, while ...