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Lucero v. Parkinson Construction Co., Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 1, 2019

ELISEO LIMA LUCERO Plaintiff,
v.
PARKINSON CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, INC., et al. Defendant.

         Re Document No. 23

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Granting Plaintiff's Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs

         On December 11, 2018, this Court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff Eliseo Lima Lucero on his action to recover damages for overtime pay from Defendant Parkinson Construction Company under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.; the Maryland Wage and Hour Law, Md. Code, Lab. & Empl. Art., § 3-401 et seq.; and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, Md. Code, Lab. & Empl. Art., § 3-501 et seq. See Final J., ECF No. 22; Compl. at 1, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff filed this Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs on January 10, 2019. See Mot. for Atty's' Fees, ECF No. 23. On January 25, 2019, this matter was referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather for mediation. See Order Setting Mediation, ECF No. 26. However, mediation did not yield a resolution on the outstanding issue. Plaintiff contends that he is entitled to receive reasonable attorneys' fees and costs under the FLSA. See Mot. for Atty's' Fees at 1. Defendant argues that an award of attorneys' fees and costs is unreasonable because Plaintiff “intensely litigated on false pretenses.” Def.'s Response to Mot. for Att'ys' Fees at 1, ECF No. 24.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Attorneys' Fees

         Under the FLSA, a prevailing plaintiff is entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys' fees. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); see, e.g., Driscoll v. George Washington Univ., 55 F.Supp.3d 106, 111 (D.D.C. 2014). A court is to determine a reasonable fee using the “lodestar” method, whereby the number of hours reasonably expended is multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. See DL v. District of Columbia, No. 18-7004, 2019 WL 2180398, at *2 (D.C. Cir. May 21, 2019) (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984)). Therefore, in assessing whether an attorneys' fees award is reasonable, a court is to (1) determine what constitutes a reasonable hourly rate, (2) assess whether the hours billed are reasonable, and (3) consider whether adjustments or multipliers to the lodestar are warranted. See Martini v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, 977 F.Supp. 482, 484 (D.D.C. 1997) (citing Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995)).

         1. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         The reasonableness of an attorney's hourly rate should be considered in light of the prevailing market rates in the relevant community for lawyers with comparable skills, experience, and reputation. See Salazar ex rel. Salazar v. District of Columbia, 809 F.3d 58, 62 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (citing Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107). “[A]ttorneys' fee matrices [are] one type of evidence that ‘provide[ ] a useful starting point' in calculating the prevailing market rate.” Ventura v. L.A. Howard Constr. Co., 139 F.Supp.3d 462, 463-64 (D.D.C. 2015) (citing Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 100 (D.C. Cir. 2015)). For example, the D.C. Circuit has established that courts may look to the Laffey Matrix, a schedule of appropriate fees for an attorney conducting litigation in Washington, D.C., that is based on years of experience. Covington, 57 F.3d at 1105.[1] Rather than merely declaring that the use of a particular matrix is appropriate in the instant case, a plaintiff should provide the court with evidence that the matrix enumerates the prevailing rate for attorneys in “this community for this type of litigation by attorneys with comparable experience.” L.A. Howard Constr. Co., 139 F.Supp.3d at 464.

         2. Reasonable Hours Billed

         To assess reasonableness, a court must also consider whether the number of hours billed for work by counsel are reasonable. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the hours billed and sought for reimbursement are reasonable. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983); Reyes v. Kimuell, 270 F.Supp.3d 30, 36 (D.D.C 2017) (citing Herrera v. Mitch O'Hara LLC, 257 F.Supp.3d 37, 46 (D.D.C. 2017)). The fee request “must be sufficiently detailed to permit the District Court to make an independent determination whether or not the hours claimed are justified.” Herrera, 257 F.Supp.3d at 47 (quoting Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Def., 675 F.2d 1319, 1327 (D.C. Cir. 1982)).

         In determining whether billed hours are reasonable, courts should exclude hours that were not reasonably expended. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. Productivity is the key factor that determines whether an attorney's time was reasonably expended. See Ventura v. Bebo Foods, Inc., 738 F.Supp.2d 8, 33-34 (D.D.C. 2010) (citing Copeland, 641 F.2d at 892). To this end, a court should exclude hours that are “duplicative, excessive, or otherwise unnecessary.” Bebo Foods, 738 F.Supp. at 33-34 (citing Copeland, 641 F.2d at 892); see also Herrera, 257 F.Supp.3d at 47; Serrano, 209 F.Supp.3d at 198.

         In addition, a court determining the reasonableness of hours billed may exclude time expended on motions that ultimately fail. See Bebo Foods, 738 F.Supp. at 33-34 (citing Copeland, 641 F.2d at 892). In Reyes, this Court found that “the hours billed by counsel were reasonable because counsel expended a reasonable amount of time on each task, were successful in all of their motions, and did not bill for duplicative work.” 270 F.Supp.3d at 38. But success is not the sole consideration. A party's fee award should not necessarily be reduced simply because that party was ultimately awarded less in damages than it initially requested, particularly where there is ...


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