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Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund v. Palisades Operations, LLC

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 16, 2019

SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION NATIONAL INDUSTRY PENSION FUND, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PALISADES OPERATIONS, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION ADOPTING REPORT & RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          G. MICHAEL HARVEY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund (“the Fund”) and the Fund's trustees (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint against Defendant Palisades Operations, LLC, alleging that Palisades had failed to contribute to the Fund between September 2015 and April 2017 in accordance with the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. (See Compl., ECF No. 1, at 4-5, 7.)[1] Plaintiffs sought to recover unpaid contributions, interest, and liquidated damages under section 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1145 (see id. at 2, 8-10), and moved for summary judgment (see Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 12, at 1). On July 24, 2018, this Court granted Plaintiffs' motion and awarded them $24, 943.26 for all delinquent contributions, accrued interest, and liquidated damages. (See Order, ECF No. 16, at 1.)

         Plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $8, 865.00. (See Pls.' Pet. For Attys.' Fees and Costs (“Pls.' Pet.”), ECF No. 19, at 3.) The Court referred this motion to a magistrate judge (see Minute Order of October 24, 2018); it was randomly assigned to Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey on October 24, 2018.

         Before this Court at present is the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that Magistrate Judge Harvey filed on December 21, 2018, with respect to Plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and costs. (See R&R, ECF No. 24.)[2] The R&R reflects Magistrate Judge Harvey's opinion that Plaintiffs should be awarded costs and fees in the amount of $8, 826.00. (See Id. at 1, 11.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Harvey recommends that this Court find that the hourly rates Plaintiffs' attorneys have charged are “reasonable and are at or below the prevailing market rate for ERISA services in the Washington, D.C. area.” (Id. at 6.) Magistrate Judge Harvey further concludes that Plaintiffs have met their burden of demonstrating that the No. of hours billed in this litigation is reasonable. (See Id. at 7-11.) In support of this conclusion, Magistrate Judge Harvey relies on Plaintiffs' comprehensive documentation, as well as the No. of hours courts in this district have found reasonable in other, similar cases. (See Id. at 7-9.) Magistrate Judge Harvey further rejects Defendant's generalized request for an across-the-board reduction in fees as well as each of Defendant's challenges to specific billing entries in turn, except a billing entry for 0.2 hours that Plaintiffs concede is unrelated to the present litigation and should not have been included. (See Id. at 7-11.)

         In addition to providing explanations for Magistrate Judge Harvey's conclusions, the R&R also advises the parties that the “failure to file timely objections to the findings and recommendations set forth in this report may waive their right of appeal from an order of the District Court that adopts such findings and recommendation.” (Id. at 12 (citing Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985)).) Under this Court's local rules, any party who objects to a report and recommendation of a magistrate judge must file a written objection with the Clerk of the Court within 14 days of the party's receipt of the report, and any such written objection must specify the portions of the findings and recommendations to which each objection is made and the basis for each such objection. See LCvR 72.3(b). Here, timely objections would have been due by January 4, 2019, and as of the date of the instant Memorandum Opinion, neither party has filed any such objection.

         This Court has reviewed Magistrate Judge Harvey's R&R and agrees with its careful and thorough analysis and conclusions. Specifically, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge-and also, presumably, Defendants-that the rates Plaintiffs' attorneys have charged are reasonable. (See R&R at 4-6; see also Def.'s Opp'n to Pls.' Pet. (“Def.'s Opp'n”), ECF No. 22, at 6-7.) The Court also agrees with the Magistrate Judge's finding that the No. of hours requested are reasonable. (See R&R at 7-11.) In particular, the Court agrees that an across-the-board reduction is not warranted (see Id. at 7-9); that the contested 3.8 hours that Mooney Green associate Matthew Watts billed were reasonable (see Id. at 10); and that the 1.9 hours that attorneys and paralegals spent correcting and refiling the motion for summary judgment were reasonable and not duplicative (see id.).

         The Court further concurs with the Magistrate Judge that any challenge to the No. of hours based on Defendant's representations regarding this case's similarity to past litigation is so vague and unspecific that it must be waived. (See Id. at 9-10.) Not only does Defendant fail to reference the four other matters it is relying upon (see Def.'s Opp'n at 4, 6), Defendant does not even attempt to explain why any substantive similarities to other disputes renders unreasonable the thirty hours the attorneys here have reported with respect to the drafting of both an 18-page motion for summary judgment that includes more than 100 pages of exhibits (see Pls.' Mem. in Support of Pls.' Mot. for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 12-7, and accompanying exhibits), and a 19-page reply (see Pls.' Reply in Support of Pls.' Mot. for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 15). As Magistrate Judge Harvey recommends, this Court finds that the amount of time reported to prepare these filings is reasonable, especially given the factual differences that necessitate individualized motions and responses. (See Pls.' Reply in Support of Pls.' Pet., ECF No. 23, at 4 (explaining that attorneys “cannot simply copy and paste a motion for summary judgment and a reply in support verbatim from one matter to the next”).) Moreover, to the extent that the repetitive nature of the litigation is frustrating to Defendant, the Court reminds Defendant that the reason these same legal arguments are raised repeatedly between these same parties is because Defendant persists in refusing to make timely contributions to the Fund as the parties' collective bargaining agreement requires. (See Tr. of Proceedings, July 24, 2018, ECF No. 17, at 3:18-4:22, 16:3-18:3.)

         In sum, in the absence of any timely-filed objection, and after conducting its own review of this matter, this Court accepts Magistrate Judge Harvey's analysis in full, and thus will ADOPT the Report and Recommendation in its entirety. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs will be GRANTED, and Plaintiffs are awarded $8, 826.00 in attorneys' fees and costs.

         A separate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.

         REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         This matter was referred to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation. Pending before the Court is a motion for attorney's fees. Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund and its Trustees (“Plaintiffs” or “the Fund”) filed this motion to recover $8, 865.00 in attorney's fees and costs expended litigating its claims under sections 502 and 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132, 1145, against Palisades Operations, LLC (“Defendant”). After reviewing the entire record[3] the undersigned recommends finding that Plaintiffs are eligible for an award of attorney's fees and that, with the exception of a single billing entry, their request for fees and costs is reasonable. The undersigned therefore recommends that the Court grant Plaintiffs' motion and award them $8, 826.00 in attorney's fees and costs.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Fund is an employee pension benefit plan and multiemployer pension plan under ERISA. ECF No. 1 at 2; see also 29 U.S.C. § 1002. In 2010, Defendant entered into a collective bargaining agreement with Service Employees International Union Local 1199 United Health Care Workers East. ECF No. 1 at 4. Pursuant to that agreement, Defendant was obligated to remit contributions to the Fund in accordance with the Fund's trust agreement, collections policies, and rehabilitation plan. Id. at 4-5. Between September 2015 and April 2017, Defendant failed to remit certain of these contributions. Id. at 7. Thereafter, Plaintiffs initiated this action, seeking to recover, inter alia, delinquent contributions, accrued interest, and liquidated damages under 29 U.S.C. § 1145. Id. at 2, 8-10. Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson granted the motion, awarding Plaintiffs $24, 943.26 for all delinquent contributions, accrued interest, and liquidated damages. ECF No. 12; ECF No. 16 at 1. Plaintiffs then moved to recover $8, 865.00 in attorney's fees and costs. ECF No. 19 at 3.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Where a multiemployer plan sues to recover delinquent contributions under ERISA section 515, 29 U.S.C. § 1145, and obtains a judgment in its favor, “the court shall award the plan . . . reasonable attorney's fees and costs of the action.” Serv. Emps. Int'l Union Nat'l Indus. Pension Fund v. Bristol Manor Healthcare Ctr., Inc., Civil Action No. 12-1904 (RC), 2016 WL 3636970, at *2 (D.D.C. June 30, 2016) (alteration in original) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2)); see also Connors v. Petitte Bros. Min. Co., 70 F.3d 637, at *2 ...


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