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Chemeon Surface Technology, LLC v. Metalast International, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

June 5, 2017

CHEMEON SURFACE TECHNOLOGY, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
METALAST INTERNATIONAL, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

         On April 24, 2017, this court considered plaintiffs motion for sanctions (ECF No. 284) against defendants. The court granted the motion and the request for an award of attorney's fees and costs as a sanction, and directed defendants' counsel to submit a memorandum of attorney's fees and costs. (Id.) The court indicated that it would determine the amount of sanctions to be ordered under a separate order.

         Plaintiffs counsel, Robert C. Ryan ("Ryan"), filed an itemized billing in support of defendants' motion for sanctions, supported by his declaration (See ECF Nos. 290, 291). The court now considers plaintiffs report of fees and costs related to plaintiffs motion for sanctions.

         I. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff is the prevailing party to the extent that the court determined that sanctions were warranted against defendants for their failure to comply with a discovery order. The court concluded that an award of attorney's fees and costs was proper under the circumstances, and it must now calculate a reasonable fee award.

         Calculation of reasonable attorney's fees is a two-step process. First, the court computes the "lodestar" figure, which requires the court to multiply the reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation. Fischer v. SJB-P.D., Inc., 214 F.3d 1115, 1119 (9th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). Second, the court "may adjust the lodestar, [only on rare and exceptional occasions], upward or downward using a multiplier based on factors not subsumed in the initial calculation of the lodestar." Van Gerwen v. Guarantee Mut. Life Co., 214 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2000).

         A. Step One

         1. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         "The 'prevailing market rates in the relevant legal community' set the reasonable hourly rate for purposes of computing the lodestar amount." Gonzalez v. City of Maywood, 729 F.3d 1196, 1205 (9th Cir. 2013). "Within this geographic community, the district court should 'take into consideration the experience, skill, and reputation of the attorney or paralegal.'" Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). It is customary for attorneys to bill an hourly rate for legal services provided, and Mr. Ryan attests that his hourly rate is $550, and that the following attorneys, Mr. Lukas, Mr. Donahey, Mr. Hadley, and Ms. Reid, charge hourly rates of $515, $435, $345, and $330, respectively. Mr. Ryan further attests that his paralegal, Ms. Arnold, charges an hourly rate of $195.

         Plaintiff assert that these hourly rates are reasonable considering the skill, experience, and reputation of the attorneys assigned to this case. Defendants dispute the reasonableness of each of the hourly rates, specifically arguing that they are "hardly reflective of the local market for litigation attorneys." (ECF No. 302 at 5.) The court agrees. While defendants' attorney, Mr. Hoy, declares that his maximum hourly billing rate is $350, he does not provide the court with what he believes to be a reasonable hourly rate. The court therefore surveys recent orders awarding attorney's fees and finds that the following are reasonable hourly rates: $375 for a partner; $250 for an associate; and $125 for a paralegal. See U.S. Bank, N.A. v. Recovery Services Northwest, Inc., 2:13-cv-01254, 2017 WL 901721 at *1 (D. Nev. March 7, 2017) (granting fees at $125 per hour for a paralegal); Dentino v. Moiharwin Diversified Corp., No. 2:16-cv-904, 2017 WL 187146 at *2-3 (D. Nev. Jan. 17, 2017] (granting fees at $350 per hour for a partner, $225 for an associate, and $125 for a paralegal); Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, Ltd. v. A. V.E.L.A., Inc., 2:08-cv-00105, 2017 WL 44942 at *2 (D. Nev. Jan. 4.. 2017) (granting fees at $325 per hour for a partner and $250 for an associate); Roadhouse v. Patenaude & Felix, A.P.C., 2:13-cv-560, 2016 WL 5791544 at *4-5 (D. Nev. Sept. 30, 2016) (granting fees a1 $375 per hour for a partner); Marrocco v. Hill, 291 F.R.D 586, 589 (D. Nev. 2013) (finding the reasonable hourly rate in the Nevada community to be $375-$400 for partner with over thirty-five years of experience).

         2. Hours Reasonably Expended

         The court next considers the hours expended on the tasks outlined in Mr. Ryan's declaration. The party seeking an award of fees must submit evidence supporting the hours worked. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). "Where the documentation of hours is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award accordingly." Id. The court should exclude from the initial fee calculation hours that are not reasonably expended. Id. at 433-34. The court may exclude hours that are not reasonable due to overstaffing, duplication of effort, excessiveness, and otherwise unnecessary to the issue. Id. at 434. In other words, the court has discretion to "trim fat" from, or otherwise reduce, the number of hours claimed to have been spent on the case. Edwards v. Nat'l Business Factors, Inc., 897 F.Supp. 458, 460 (D. Nev. 1995) (quotation omitted); see also Gates v. Deubnejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1399 (9th Cir. 1992).

         Mr. Ryan provides the dates that the attorneys and paralegal provided legal services in connection with the motion to compel and for sanctions, a summary of work performed for each entry, and the time spent on each task. (ECF No. 291-1.) Defendants object to the amount of time billed stating it "is beyond absurd." (ECF No. 302 at 1.) Defendants point out six specific examples of billing entries it considers to be "absurd." (Id. at 1-4.)

         Plaintiffs reported 76.4 hours of attorney and paralegal labor is excessive in relation to the discovery dispute underlying the award. Many of the entries are duplicative, excessive, appear to be the result of overstaffing, and are generally unnecessary. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. Examples of unreasonable time sought include, but are not limited to: Mr. Ryan billing 11.4 hours for what appears to be mostly management related to the motion to compel; Mr. Donahey billing 31.8 hours for the drafting of the initial motion for sanctions; Mr. Hadley billing 9.2 hours to prepare for and attend the motions hearing (that was just over an hour long (See ECF No. 268)); and Mr. Hadley billing 9.4 hours to prepare a draft order regarding document production. (See ECF No. 291-1.) Further, much of the time billed is duplicative of effort and represents, in the court's view, an overstaffing of the case. For example, on March 27, 2017, Mr. Donahey, Mr. Hadley, Ms. Reid, and Mr. Ryan all billed for time spent editing the motion for sanctions, for a total of 4.4 hours billed.

         Based on the court's experience, and in light of the fact that the number of hours billed is excessive on its face, the court will reduce the number of hours from 76.4 to 38.2, representing a deduction by half, which the court finds reasonable in this case. The court will additionally deduct ...


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