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Couch v. Transworld Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

April 25, 2017




         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of Plaintiff Frederick W. Couch for an award of attorney fees and costs, ECF No. 16. Defendant Transworld Systems, Inc. ("TSI") responded, ECF No. 17. Couch replied, additionally requesting leave to file a supplemental petition for attorney fees, ECF No. 20. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the motion for attorney fees and costs in part. The Court will award Couch $3, 150.00 in attorney fees and $165.43 in costs, for a total award of $3, 315.43. The Court will deny Couch's request for leave to file a supplemental petition for attorney fees.

         II. Background

         Couch brought suit against TSI in the Jefferson County, Kentucky Circuit Court. Compl. 1, ECF No. 1-1. In the complaint, Couch alleges violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. Id. ¶ 1. Specifically, Couch alleges that TSI sent a letter to him in an effort to collect a debt in the amount of $42.55. Id. ¶ 9. The word "TRANSMITTAL" was printed in large font over a bold green stripe across the envelope containing the letter. Id. ¶ 10. In addition, a "barcode and data matrix code" could be seen through the clear window pane of the envelope. Id. ¶ 11.

         TSI removed the case to this Court. Notice Removal 1, ECF No. 1. On December 22, 2016, TSI made an offer of judgment to Couch under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. Offer J. 1, ECF No. 13-1. The offer specified that, without admitting liability, TSI would pay $1, 001.00 in statutory and actual damages, as well as "an amount for reasonable attorney's fees and costs." Id. The attorney fees and costs were to be either agreed upon by the parties or determined by the Court. Id.

         Couch accepted TSFs offer. Id. at 2; Couch Letter, ECF No. 13-2. Couch filed notice with this Court that he had accepted TSFs offer. Notice Acceptance, ECF No. 13. Couch moved this Court for entry of judgment. Mot. J., ECF No. 15. This Court entered judgment on April 21, 2017. Order, ECF No. 21. The parties were unable to agree on a reasonable fee award and Couch now moves this Court for an award of attorney fees and costs. Mot. Att'y Fees, ECF No. 16.

         III. Discussion

         The FDCPA entitles a prevailing party to reasonable attorney fees and court costs. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). A reasonable attorney fee is "one that is adequately compensatory to attract competent counsel yet which avoids producing a windfall for lawyers." Geier v. Sundquist, 372 F.3d 784, 791 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Reed v. Rhodes, 179 F.3d 453, 471 (6th Cir. 1999)). To calculate a reasonable fee, district courts in the Sixth Circuit use the "lodestar" method. Imwalle v. Reliance Med. Prods., Inc., 515 F.3d 531, 551 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). The lodestar method involves multiplying "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation ... by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. The goal in shifting fees is not to "achieve auditing perfection, " but to "do rough justice." Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 838 (2011). Thus, there is a strong presumption that the lodestar figure will be reasonable. Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986). "The party seeking an award of fees should submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed. Where the documentation of hours is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award accordingly." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. In addition, counsel for the prevailing party should exercise "billing judgment"[1] and exclude "hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Id. at 434.

         Once the Court arrives at a lodestar figure, it may then, within its discretion, adjust this figure to reflect the considerations outlined in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974). See Adcock-Ladd v. Sec'y of Treasury, 227 F.3d 343, 349 (6th Cir. 2000). These considerations are: (1) the time and labor required, (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions, (3) the skill required to perform the legal service properly, (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney because of acceptance of the case, (5) the customary fee, (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent, (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances, (8) the amount involved and the results obtained, (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys, (10) the undesirability of the case, (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client, and (12) awards in similar cases. Johnson, 488 F.2d at 717-19, abrogated on other grounds by Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87, 90 (1989).

         Couch asks this Court to award him $6, 500.00 in attorney fees and $165.43 in costs. [2] Mot. Att'y Fees, ECF No. 16. He also requests leave to file a supplemental petition for attorney fees incurred pursuing these attorney fees. Reply Supp. Mot. Att'y Fees 7, ECF No. 20. Couch attaches a declaration by his attorney, Nina Couch, in which she documents the hours spent on this case by her and her co-counsel, Zachary L. Taylor. Decl. 2-3, ECF No. 16-1. Attorney Couch also states that the attorneys' hourly rate is $250.00. Id. ¶ 6. TSI does not contest that $250.00 is a reasonable hourly rate. Resp. Opp. Mot. Att'y Fees 3 n.l, ECF No. 17. Rather, TSI contests the amount of hours Couch's attorneys spent on this litigation. Id. at 2. TSI asserts that Couch "seeks compensation for excessive, duplicative, and non-compensable billing entries." Id. Additionally, TSI asserts that application of the Johnson considerations warrants further reduction in the award of attorney fees. Id. at 7-9. TSI suggests that Couch's attorney fee award should be reduced to $1, 925.00.[3] Id. at 9.

         A. Whether There Are Excessive Billing Entries

         TSI points to the following billing entries as excessive: (1) Entry on 8/1/2016 for 6.4 hours for "Research;" (2) Entry on 9/29/2016 for 0.8 hours for "Prepare and File Jury Demand;" (3) Entry on 10/28/2016 for 2.5 hours for "Draft Discovery Requests." Id. at 5 (citing Decl. 2-3, ECF No. 16-1).

         First, TSI states that the 6.4 hour entry for "Research" is excessive because there is no explanation of the type of research conducted. Id. Thus, it asserts, "it is impossible to evaluate the necessity of over six hours of research." Id. TSI recommends that this Court reduce the amount of time awarded for this entry to 3.2 hours. Time Entries 2, ECF No. 17-2. Couch replies that "the FDCPA is an evolving body of law" and points to a circuit split, on which the Sixth Circuit has not decided, over whether a "benign language exception" exists. Reply Supp. Mot. Att'y Fees 5, ECF No. 20. He asserts that because the Sixth Circuit has not decided the issue, his attorneys researched this exception both prior to and after filing the complaint. Id. Couch ...

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