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Greene v. Alan Waxler Group Charter Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Nevada

April 4, 2014

ROBERT GREENE, et al., Plaintiff(s),
v.
ALAN WAXLER GROUP CHARTER SERVICES, LLC, et al., Defendant(s)

ORDER

NANCY J. KOPPE, Magistrate Judge.

On March 18, 2014, the Court determined that Defendants could recover reasonable expenses arising out of their motion for sanctions. See Docket No. 171 at 6. Defendants filed a statement of their fees and costs, along with supporting documentation. Docket No. 172. Plaintiffs filed a response. Docket No. 176. The Court finds the matter appropriately decided without oral argument. See Local Rule 78-2. For the reasons stated below, the Court hereby AWARDS Defendants $14, 450 in attorneys' fees and $1, 766 in costs.

I. ATTORNEY'S FEES

The Court has already ruled that Defendants are entitled to an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to Rule 37(c)(1)(A), [1] which provides for the payment of reasonable expenses, including attorneys' fees, caused by the failure to comply with Rule 26(a)'s disclosure requirements. Reasonable attorneys' fees are generally calculated based on the traditional "lodestar" method. Camacho v. Bridgeport Financial, Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 2008). Under the lodestar method, the Court determines a reasonable fee by multiplying "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation" by "a reasonable hourly rate." See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). The lodestar figure is presumptively reasonable. Cunningham v. County of Los Angeles, 879 F.2d 481, 488 (9th Cir. 1988).[2]

A. ANALYSIS

Defendants seek an award of $34, 542.50 in attorneys' fees, representing more than 100 hours expended on the briefing and hearing on their motion for discovery sanctions, as well as for the preparation of their materials supporting their fee award. See Docket No. 172 at 2. Plaintiffs balk at the fee request, arguing that it is significantly inflated. See, e.g., Docket No. 176 at 5.[3]

1. Reasonableness of Hours Expended

The first aspect of the lodestar equation is a determination of the number of hours reasonably expended. The Court "has a great deal of discretion in determining the reasonableness of the fee and, as a general rule, [an appellate court] will defer to its determination... regarding the reasonableness of the hours claimed by the [movant]." Prison Legal News v. Schwarzenegger, 608 F.3d 446, 453 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1398 (9th Cir. 1992)). In reviewing the hours claimed, the Court may exclude hours related to overstaffing, duplication, and excessiveness, or that are otherwise unnecessary. See, e.g., Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434; see also Cruz v. Alhambra School Dist., 601 F.Supp.2d 1183, 1191 (C.D. Cal. 2009) ("the Court must eliminate from the lodestar time that was unreasonably, unnecessarily, or inefficiently" spent).

The reasonableness of hours expended depends on the specific circumstances of each case. Camacho, 523 F.3d at 978. To that end, in determining the reasonableness of hours spent in relation to a motion, the Court considers factors such as the complexity of the issues raised, the need to review the record and pleadings, and the need to conduct legal research, in addition to the length of the briefing. See, e.g., Marrocco v. Hill, 291 F.R.D. 586, 588 (D. Nev. 2013). Having reviewed these factors, the Court agrees with Plaintiffs that the hours claimed are not reasonable.

As an initial matter, it appears clear that Defendants' counsel over-staffed this matter by having work performed by two partners and three associates. Billed time that includes unnecessary duplication of effort should be excluded from the lodestar. Herrington v. County of Sonoma, 883 F.2d 739, 747 (9th Cir. 1989). "[C]ourts ought to examine with skepticism claims that several lawyers were needed to perform a task, and should deny compensation for such needless duplication as when three lawyers appear for a hearing when one would do." Democratic Party of Wash. State v. Reed, 388 F.3d 1281, 1286 (9th Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted). Of course, some duplication of effort is necessary in any case. Moreno v. City of Sacramento, 534 F.3d 1106, 1112 (9th Cir. 2008). In reviewing the billing, however, it is clear that having two partners and three associates working on a relatively straightforward discovery sanction motion created unnecessary duplication of efforts. For example, Defendants employed one associate to work on the original motion, another associate to work on the reply brief, and a third associate to work on the supplemental brief. See Docket No. 172, Exh. 3. Similarly, one partner worked on the motion and reply, while a different partner prepared for and presented oral argument. Id. "While attorneys and their clients are free to staff matters as they see fit, they are not entitled to recover fees as a sanction for hours that are deemed to be excessive" because of their staffing decisions. Aevoe Corp. v. AE Tech. Co., Ltd., 2013 WL 5324787, *5 (D. Nev. Sept. 20, 2013); see also Aevoe Corp. v. Shenzhen Membrane Precise Electron Ltd., 2012 WL 2244262, *10 (D. Nev. June 15, 2012) ("The court has no doubt that this amount of time was actually spent [by multiple attorneys]. However, while the law firm and its clients may agree to multiple attorneys working on a case, the court will not impose sanctions... for the entire amount.").[4]

Moreover, in reviewing the hours claimed, they are clearly unreasonable. For example, Defendants assert that their counsel spent 11 hours preparing a motion to strike Plaintiffs' supplemental brief. See, e.g., Docket No. 172 at 2. That motion to strike contained roughly 3 pages of argument. See Docket No. 170 at 2-5. Motions to strike unauthorized briefs are routine and often consist of a few lines of argument indicating that: (1) the brief was not authorized by Court order or the Local Rules; (2) the proper remedy is to strike the unauthorized brief; and, (3) in the alternative, the movant wishes an opportunity to respond in the event the brief is not stricken.[5] The Court finds that a reasonable amount of time preparing that motion in this case, including reviewing Plaintiffs' supplemental brief, is one hour.

The other time claimed is also excessive. In particular, the Court finds that following to be the reasonable hours expended:

• Six hours for Ms. Krincek and 12 hours for Ms. Gilmore to conduct legal research, review the case file, and draft the motion.
• Three hours for Ms. Krincek and six hours for Ms. Gilmore to conduct legal research, review the case ...

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