United States District Court, District of Columbia
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION NATIONAL INDUSTRY PENSION FUND, et al., Plaintiffs
JERSEY CITY HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS, LLC, Defendant
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Service Employees International Union National Industry
Pension Fund and the Fund's Trustees, bring this action
against Defendant, Jersey City Healthcare Providers, LLC,
under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA”). See 29 U.S.C. § 1001. On
February 13, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion
for Summary Judgment and awarded Plaintiffs $34, 383.66 in
outstanding contributions, liquidated damages, interest, and
audit testing fees. See Feb. 13, 2019 Order, ECF No.
21. In the Order granting summary judgment, the Court
indicated that, “[a]s Plaintiffs have prevailed on
their Motion for Summary Judgment, they may move for
attorneys' fees and costs as well as any additional
interest that accrued subsequent to filing their
Complaint.” Id. That motion is currently
before the Court.
does not contest Plaintiffs' entitlement to accrued
interest, eligibility for attorneys' fees, or
Plaintiffs' counsel's billing rates. Instead,
Defendant argues that Plaintiffs requested amount of
attorneys' fees is unreasonable given the nature of the
consideration of the pleadings,  the relevant legal
authorities, and the record for purposes of this motion, the
Court GRANTS Plaintiffs'  Motion for Attorneys'
Fees and Costs and Additional Interest. The Court concludes
that the amount of attorneys' fees is reasonable given
the circumstances of this case. Therefore, the Court GRANTS
Plaintiffs' request as to a total of $18, 824.00 in
attorneys' fees (including fees on fees), $495.00 in
costs, and $3, 904.43 in additional accrued interest and
awards those amounts. As no other issues remain, this case is
dismissed in its entirety.
factual background of this case is laid out in detail in the
Court's February 13, 2019 Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 22,
2-6. For purposes of deciding Plaintiffs' pending Motion,
the Court adopts and incorporates the factual background from
the Court's prior Memorandum Opinion.
summary, on August 15, 2017, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit
under ERISA to collect unpaid contributions, interest,
liquidated damages, and audit testing fees. See
generally Compl., ECF No. 1. The parties subsequently
engaged in discovery. See generally Joint Discovery
Plan, ECF No. 15. Plaintiffs then moved for summary judgment,
and on February 13, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiffs'
Motion for Summary Judgment. Feb. 13, 2019 Order, ECF No. 21.
The Court ordered Defendant to pay Plaintiffs $34, 383.66 in
outstanding contributions, liquidated damages, interest, and
audit testing fees. Id. Because Plaintiffs prevailed
in their ERISA suit, they have now moved for attorneys'
fees and costs as well as additional accrued interest.
provides that the defendant must pay the reasonable
attorneys' fees and costs incurred by the plaintiff in an
action seeking delinquent contributions. 29 U.S.C. §
1132(g)(2)(D). “D.C. courts recognize that the
‘usual method of calculating reasonable attorney's
fees is to multiply the hours reasonably expended in the
litigation by a reasonable hourly fee, producing the
‘lodestar' amount.'” Judicial Watch,
Inc. v. Bureau of Land Mgmt., 562 F.Supp.2d 159, 175
(D.D.C. 2008), rev'd on other grounds, 610 F.3d
747 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (quoting Bd. of Trs. of the Hotel
& Rest. Emples. Local 25 v. JPR, Inc., 136 F.3d 794,
801 (D.C. Cir. 1998)). Plaintiffs, as the party seeking fees,
bear the burden of establishing the reasonableness of their
request. Role Models Am., Inc. v. Brownlee, 353 F.3d
962, 970 (D.C. Cir. 2004).
do not dispute that Plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys'
fees. Additionally, Defendants do not dispute the hourly
rates charged by counsel. Plaintiffs' counsel charged the
following rates for the legal services provided in this case:
partners billed at $220.00 per hour, associates billed at
$195.00 per hour, and paralegals billed at $120.00 per hour.
Bardes Dec., ECF No. 23-1, ¶ 12. These rates are lower
than those approved of by the Laffey matrix
maintained by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District
of Columbia. Under the USAO Laffey matrix, the
following market rates would apply: $352.00 per hour for
Diana Bardes and Lauren McDermott, two partners with seven
years' experience; $602.00 per hour for John Mooney, a
partner with 34 years' experience; $346.00 per hour for
Matthew Watts, an associate with four years' experience;
and $164.00 for Caitlin Cooper, a paralegal. Id. at
¶ 17. Additionally, Plaintiffs introduced
evidence that counsel's billing rates were less than
those charged by other firms of reasonable comparable skill,
experience, and reputation in this geographical area that
have an employees' benefits practice. Id. at
¶¶ 18-19 (comparing the billing rates of other
firms). Based on the evidence produced by Plaintiffs, as well
as the lack of opposition by Defendant, the Court concludes
that counsel's billing rate was fair, and the Court's
analysis will focus instead on the reasonableness of the
number of hours billed.
counsel had five members completing work on matters for this
case. Ms. Bardes, a partner with seven years' experience,
billed 57.2 hours; Ms. Cooper, a paralegal, billed 20.2
hours; Mr. Watts, an associate with four years'
experience, billed 5.8 hours; Ms. McDermott, a partner with
seven years' experience, billed 2.2 hours; and Mr.
Mooney, a partner with 34 years' experience, billed 0.7
hours. Id. at ¶¶ 6-10. In total,
Plaintiffs' counsel billed 86.1 hours in connection with
this case. These hours were primarily spent: (1) researching
the collective bargaining agreement and Defendant; (2)
preparing and filing the Complaint; (3) completing discovery
and depositions; (4) preparing and filing Plaintiffs'
Motion for Summary Judgment and Reply in support of that
Motion; (5) communicating with Defendant and defense counsel
regarding the unpaid contributions. Id. at ¶
has two primary arguments as to why Plaintiffs' counsel
billed an unreasonable number of hours. First, Defendant
contends that much of the content in Plaintiffs' filings
was boilerplate and copied from filings in other, similar
cases that Plaintiffs' counsel has litigated. Second,
Defendant argues that Plaintiffs' counsel inappropriately
shifted work onto its senior legal staff who billed at a
higher rate. The Court will address each argument in turn.
Defendant contends that Plaintiffs' counsel is not
entitled to its full requested compensation because much of
the information in its filings was boilerplate and taken from
previous cases. In its Opposition, Defendant claims to have
conducted a random tracking of paragraphs in Plaintiffs'
Complaint and found nearly word-for-word similarities between
the Complaint in this case and complaints that
Plaintiffs' counsel previously filed in similar cases.
Def.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 24, 2-4. Defendant did the same
for Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment, finding
nearly word-for-word similarities between the Motion for
Summary Judgment in this case and motions that
Plaintiffs' counsel has made in other ERISA matters.
Id. at 4-11. Defendant contends that, because
Plaintiffs' counsel was traveling down a “well-worn
path” throughout this case, the fee request should be
reduced. Boivin v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 446 F.3d 148,
151 (D.C. Cir. 2006).
Court agrees with Defendant that certain language from both
Plaintiffs' Complaint and Motion for Summary Judgment has
been used in prior litigation. However, given the nature of
this “boilerplate” ...