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Crestwood Farm Bloodstock, LLC v. Everest Stables

March 29, 2013

CRESTWOOD FARM BLOODSTOCK, LLC
PLAINTIFF
v.
EVEREST STABLES, INC., AND JEFFREY L. NIELSEN DEFENDANTS EVEREST STABLES, INC.,
PLAINTIFF
v.
LEWIS POPE MCLEAN, SR., CRESTWOOD FARM BLOODSTOCK, LLC., MCLEAN HOLDINGS, LLC, AND CRESTWOOD FARM, LLC
DEFENDANTS



MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Motion for Attorney's Fees filed by Crestwood Farm Bloodstock, LLC. (DE 215). Crestwood seeks an award of contractual attorney's fees for its successful defense and prosecution of these consolidated actions in the amount of $272,486.30, as well as any additional amounts in preparing this fee application. Crestwood arrived at this figure after making certain limitations. Everest Stables, Inc., and Jeffrey L. Nielsen have responded by asserting that some or all of the fees requested are not recoverable under the contract at issue. Additionally, Everest has questioned whether the fees requested are reasonable. Everest has argued that, at most, Crestwood can recover an award of $131,417.50 against it. Because the requested fees are recoverable under the contract and are reasonable, the Court will grant Crestwood's motion.

I.BACKGROUND

The Court will presume basic familiarity with the facts and procedural history of this case involving the sale of thoroughbred horses and the related November 4, 2008 Purchase and Sale Agreement (the "November Agreement"), as discussed in the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order of March 30, 2012. (DE 204). Crestwood claims entitlement to $272,486.30 in fees pursuant to Section 20 of the November Agreement. (DE 215-1). That provision states:

20. ATTORNEY'S FEES. In the event of any action or proceeding to declare or enforce the terms of this Agreement, the prevailing party or parties shall be entitled to recover its or their reasonable attorney's fees and other costs, in addition to any other relief to which it may be entitled. (Id.)

This action was one to declare or enforce the terms of this November Agreement, and Crestwood prevailed. The Court has granted summary judgment in favor of Crestwood on all of Everest's claims and in favor of Crestwood on Count VI of its Second Amended Complaint.*fn1 (DE 204). Crestwood, however, concedes that some claims asserted by Everest went beyond the November Agreement. As a result, there are two issues for the Court: what work may be compensated and if the requested fees are reasonable.

II.DISCUSSION

As an initial matter, the Sixth Circuit has explained that federal common law can apply to an award of contractual attorney fees, even when, as here, state law has applied to the contract. See Graceland Fruit, Inc. v. KIC Chemicals, Inc., 320 F. App'x 323, 328, n. 6 (6th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). Moreover, the Kentucky Supreme Court has relied on federal common law when determining reasonable attorney fees. See, e.g. Meyers v. Chapman Printing Co., Inc., 840 S.W.2d 814, 826 (Ky. 1992).

A district court has discretion when awarding attorney fees. Imwalle v. Reliance Med. Products, Inc., 515 F.3d 531, 551 (6th Cir. 2008). "'The primary concern in an attorney fee case is that the fee awarded be reasonable,' that is, one that is adequately compensatory to attract competent counsel yet which avoids producing a windfall for lawyers." Adcock-Ladd v. Sec'y of Treasury, 227 F.3d 343, 349 (6th Cir. 2000) (quoting Reed v. Rhodes, 179 F.3d 453, 471 (6th Cir. 1999)). When determining the amount of an attorney fee award, courts begin by calculating the fee applicant's "lodestar," which is the "proven number of hours reasonably expended on the case by an attorney, multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Isabel v. City of Memphis, 404 F.3d 404, 415 (6th Cir.2005) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933 (1983)). The party seeking a fee award bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of the hours and the rates claimed. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434, 103 S.Ct. 1933. "The key requirement for an award of attorneys fees is that the documentation offered in support of the hours charged must be of sufficient detail and probative value to enable the court to determine with a high degree of certainty that such hours were actually and reasonably expended in the prosecution of the litigation." Imwalle, 515 F.3d at 553.

The Sixth Circuit has explained that other factors may go into a district court's analysis, and has endorsed factors set forth by the Fifth Circuit. Graceland, 320 F.App'x at 320 (Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974)). The Sixth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court has considered this list of twelve factors*fn2 serves "as a useful grouping of factors to consider when determining whether an award of attorneys' fees was reasonable, though no individual factor would be dispositive." Graceland, 320 F.App'x at 320 (citing Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87, 91 n. 5 (1989)). Because each case involves unique facts, no precise formula can be applied to every case. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436, 103 S.Ct. 1933. The degree of success remains the most critical factor. Id. The Supreme Court, however, has explained there is "[a] strong presumption that the lodestar figure . represents a 'reasonable' fee." Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986).

In this case, Crestwood has submitted a total lodestar figure of $340,607.90. In support, Crestwood has submitted the relevant invoices and billings showing all fees Crestwood has incurred since the first of these consolidated actions was filed in Minnesota. (DE 215-2). These detailed records show that Crestwood incurred $488,020.22 in total fees to various attorneys at various hourly rates: Getty & Childers, PLLC ($268,145.00); Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP ($15,510.00) Kinkead & Stilz, PLLC ($167,111.88); and Frank T. Becker, Attorney at Law ($37,253.34).*fn3

A.Lodestar Figure

Crestwood argues that the hours and rates for its attorneys and paralegals were reasonable for the nature of work done, the amount of work done, and the level of experience compared with comparable counsel in the community, and the results obtained. Moreover, Crestwood argues that, in many cases, the rates were discounted, and, thus, below attorneys' usual rates.

1.Getty & Childers, PLLC

Crestwood details the attorneys fees charged by its former counsel, Richard A. Getty, and the law firm of Getty & Childers, PLLC, in a table contained in its motion (DE 215 at 11-2) as well as in an Exhibit (DE 215-1) attached to the motion. Crestwood was charged between $300 and $475 for the work of partners, between $200 and $290 per hour for the work of associates, and between $110 and $150 per hour for the work of ...


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