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Hackney v. Allmed Healthcare Management, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

April 27, 2018

JAMES W. HACKNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
ALLMED HEALTHCARE MANAGEMENT, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

         This matter is before the Court on a Recommended Disposition filed by Magistrate Judge Edward B. Atkins. [R. 58.] This Court previously granted Defendant AllMed HealthCare Management, Inc. (AllMed)'s Motion for Attorneys' Fees and referred the matter to Judge Atkins to determine the amount of fees and costs. [R. 53.] Magistrate Judge Atkins reviewed the record and recommended Plaintiff James Hackney be required to pay AllMed's attorneys' fees in the amount of $81, 589.95 and expenses in the amount of $1, 520.35. [R. 58.] For the following reasons, the Court ADOPTS the Recommendation.

         I

         Mr. Hackney brought a state claim that was completely preempted by ERISA. [R. 14 at 5-6; R. 28.] This Court construed his claim as an ERISA claim and dismissed the Complaint with prejudice. [R. 28.] The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. [R. 37.] Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1), this Court then granted AllMed's motion requesting attorneys' fees and costs incurred while defending Mr. Hackney's claims. [R. 53.]

         AllMed initially filed its Motion for Attorneys' Fees on May 12, 2016. [R. 30.] This motion was briefed, but the underlying matter remained pending before the Sixth Circuit. Accordingly, this Court denied AllMed's motion without prejudice and directed them to re-file following the resolution of Mr. Hackney's appeal. [R. 36.] Three days after the Sixth Circuit issued its Mandate, AllMed refiled its motion. [R. 39.] After briefing, the Court determined to award attorneys' fees, but directed additional briefing as to the amount owed by Mr. Hackney to AllMed. [R. 53.] Magistrate Judge Atkins filed an Order stating he considered the matter “fully briefed and ripe for decision” unless the parties notified the Court otherwise within a specified amount of time. [R. 54.] Mr. Hackney responded stating, “Plaintiff hereby notifies the Court ‘otherwise.'” [R. 55 at 1.] AllMed was ordered to respond [R. 56] and did so [R. 57]. Mr. Hackney has repeatedly objected to any award for fees and or costs, but until now, has raised no specific objections to the amounts specified in AllMed's declarations.

         An initial estimate of attorneys' fees is the multiplication of reasonable hours expended in a matter by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Judge Atkins reviewed AllMed's requests and determined both the hours expended and the hourly rates to be reasonable. [R. 58.] On October 13, 2017, prior to this Court's award of fees and costs, AllMed submitted a total fee request of $90, 655.50 and a total expense request of $1, 689.28. [R. 49 at 3.] Mr. Hackney has had ample opportunity to file objections to this amount in the record, however, he did not do so prior to March 7, 2018. In his Recommended Disposition, Judge Atkins determined that the requested amount resulted in an average hourly rate of $324, a reasonable rate compared to other fees awarded by this Court in ERISA cases at rates as high as $425 per hour. [R. 58 at 5-7.] Regardless, Judge Atkins found it appropriate to mitigate any potential unnecessary fee and expense amounts by reducing the award by ten percent, awarding $81, 589.95 in fees and $1, 520.35 in costs, for a total of $83, 110.30. Id. at 7.

         II

         A

         In any case involving a request for attorneys' fees, “‘[t]he primary concern . . . 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). For this reason, attorneys seeking compensation must “maintain billing time records that are sufficiently detailed to enable courts to review the reasonableness of the hours expended.” Wooldridge v. Marlene Indus. Corp., 898 F.2d 1169, 1177 (6th Cir. 1990). The fee applicant carries “the burden of providing for the court's perusal a particularized billing record” that supports the proposed amount. Perotti v. Seiter, 935 F.2d 761, 764 (6th Cir. 1991). The petitioner, “of course, is not required to record in great detail how every minute of his [or her] time was expended, ” but should “at least . . . identify the general subject matter of [ ] time expenditures.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983).

         When evaluating these records, “[t]he trial court's initial point of departure . . . should be the determination of the fee applicant's ‘lodestar, ' which is the proven number of hours reasonably expended on the case by an attorney, multiplied by his court-ascertained reasonable hourly rate.” Adcock-Ladd, 227 F.3d at 349. After calculating this figure, “[t]he trial judge may then, within limits, adjust the ‘lodestar' to reflect relevant considerations peculiar to the subject litigation.” Id. Although the district court's “exercise of discretion” in calculating a reasonable amount “is entitled to substantial deference, ” the court must still “provide a clear and concise explanation of its reasons for the fee award.” Id. This review “should state with some particularity which of the claimed hours the court is rejecting, which it is accepting, and why.” Smith v. Serv. Master Corp., 592 Fed.Appx. 363, 366 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting U.S. Structures, Inc. v. J.P. Structures, Inc., 130 F.3d 1185, 1193 (6th Cir. 1997). And when a counterparty “raises specific objections to a fee award, a district court should state why it is rejecting them.” Wooldridge, 898 F.2d at 1176.

         A party has fourteen days after service to register any objections to the recommended disposition or else waive his rights to appeal. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In order to receive de novo review by this Court, any objection to the report and recommendation must be specific. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986). A specific objection “explain[s] and cite[s] specific portions of the report which [counsel] deem[s] problematic.” Robert v. Tesson, 507 F.3d 981, 994 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). A general objection that fails to identify specific factual or legal issues from the report and recommendation, however, is not permitted since it duplicates the Magistrate's efforts and wastes judicial economy. Howard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991).

         B

         Even though Mr. Hackney did not object to the claimed hours prior to Judge Atkins's Recommended Disposition, he now files timely objections to the award. [R. 59.] However, only a few of these objections are adequately specific, and many of his objections lack merit. Mr. Hackney begins by filing several “Specific Objections to R&R, ” and “General Issues and Additional Objections, ” all of which fail to identify specific factual or legal issues from the Report and Recommendation, instead objecting to an award of any fees at all. The Court is not required to conduct a de novo review on such generalized objections. Robert v. Tesson, 507 F.3d 981, 994 (6th Cir. 2007); Howard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991).

         1 Mr. Hackney identified four “Specific Objections to R&R, ” in which he objects to any award of attorneys' fees and costs based on his belief that this Court should not have awarded fees and costs to AllMed at all. First, “Mr. Hackney objects to any award of attorneys' fees and costs.” [R. 59 at 5.] He reiterates this in his third objection, claiming AllMed failed to comply with Federal and Local Rules, thus the Court's grant of fees and costs is improper. Id. at 6. These are not objections to Judge Atkins's Recommended Disposition, which merely addresses the amount of award. These are objections to this Court's Order granting AllMed fees and costs under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). However, such objections are appropriately addressed in a motion under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 60, which Mr. Hackney did not file. Mr. Hackney merely attempts to restate his displeasure with the Court's previously ruling, and therefore, the Court refuses to address this objection. See Moore v. Prevo, 379 Fed.Appx. 425, 428 n.6 (6th Cir. 2010); Murr v. United States, 200 F.3d 895, 902 n.1 (6th Cir. 2000).

         Next, Mr. Hackney claims he had no opportunity to respond to AllMed's request. [R. 59 at 5, 6.] After the matter was referred, Judge Atkins entered an Order stating, “This Court shall consider the matter fully briefed and ripe for decision, unless this Court hears from the parties otherwise by or before Friday, December 8, 2017.” [R. 54.] Indeed, Mr. Hackney submitted a filing on December 4, 2017, asserting, “Plaintiff hereby notifies the Court ‘otherwise.'” [R. 55 at 1.] In this notification, he claims he lacked adequate opportunity to address AllMed's request for fees and costs, but then failed to actually address this request or identify any specific objections to AllMed's request. Id. AllMed responded to this notice on December 6, 2017. [R. 57.] Mr. Hackney did not file a reply, nor did Mr. Hackney submit any supplemental filing to identify objections to AllMed's request. Three months later, Judge Atkins ...


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