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W.D.N.Y.: Defendant’s Attorneys’ Billing Records Relevant and Discoverable Where Defendant Put Reasonableness of Hours and Rates Charged by Employee’s Attorneys at Issue, By Opposing Plaintiffs’ Motion For Attorneys’ Fees
Mendez v. Radec Corp.
Following an order granting the parties’ joint motion for approval of settlement agreement, the plaintiff moved for award of attorneys’ fees and renewed his motion to reopen discovery to discover defense counsel’s billing records. Over defendant’s objection, the court granted plaintiff’s motion, reasoning that the billing records were relevant and discoverable, because the defendant had put the reasonableness of hours and rates charged by plaintiff’s counsel at issue, by opposing plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees.
Initially the court noted that cases have come down on both sides of the issue, with some courts holding that defenses counsel’s billing records are discoverable, while others have held that they are not.
Discussing the applicable law generally, the court explained:
The general principle underlying these divergent results seems to be that whether such information is discoverable depends on the nature of the objections raised to the fee request. Where the opposing party challenges the reasonableness of the rate or hours charged by the moving party’s counsel, courts are more likely to find that evidence of the nonmoving party’s counsel’s fees are relevant and discoverable. See State of New York v. Microsoft Corp., No. 98–1233, 2003 WL 25152639, at *2 and n. 3 (D.D.C. May 12, 2003) (stating that “some of the cases explicitly note that ‘ [w]hether discovery is appropriate depends, in part, on the objections raised by the opponent to the fee petition going to the reasonableness of the fee petition’ “) (quoting Murray v. Stuckey’s Inc., 153 F.R.D. 151, 152–53 (N.D.Iowa 1993)) (collecting cases); see, e.g., Pollard, 2004 WL 784489, at *3 (stating that because “DuPont objected to the excessiveness of the fees requested in the fee petition for the preparation of the fee petition …, it appears that DuPont’s own counsel’s time spent in preparing a response to Pollard’s petition for fees would serve as a logical yardstick from which to determine the reasonableness of such time expended by the plaintiff’s counsel”).
Addressing and rejecting the defendant’s contentions that their billing records were not subject to discovery, the court reasoned:
In the case at bar, defendants have not only challenged the reasonableness of the fees sought by plaintiffs, they have also expressly referenced their own fees in support of their arguments. For example, in their memorandum of law, defendants cite the specific fees and costs sought, and hours claimed, by plaintiffs’ counsel, and contrast them with those of defense counsel, noting that “Plaintiffs seek almost 3 times as much compensation for prosecuting this action as Radec spent to defend.” Dkt. # 334 at 6. Later, in discussing plaintiffs’ counsel’s hourly rates, defendants state that “the rates charged to Radec in this case are instructive.” Id. at 12. Similarly, defendants state that over a certain period, “Radec was charged only the flat fee of $175,000,” whereas “Plaintiffs claim $764,915.00 in fees for the same period….” Id. at 19.
Thus, defense counsel themselves have put at issue the reasonableness of the hours and rates charged by plaintiffs’ attorneys, and have used their own hours and rates as yardsticks by which to assess the reasonableness of those sought by plaintiffs. I therefore find that defense counsel’s billing records are relevant and discoverable. Cf. Marks Constr. Co. v. Huntington Nat’l Bank, No. 1:05CV73, 2010 WL 1836785, at *7 (N.D.W.Va. May 5, 2010) (“absent an attempt [by defendants] to claim a comparison between what Defendants paid and the claims of Plaintiffs as the basis for challenging the reasonableness of Plaintiffs’ claimed fees, there is no relevance shown with respect to the issues of the amount and reasonableness of attorneys fees and costs claimed by Plaintiffs’ counsel that justifies the required production of the billing records of [defense counsel]”).
Defendants’s argument that their detailed billing records are not discoverable because their opposition to plaintiffs’ fee request only cited the total hours and rates charged to defendants by their attorneys, see Def. Mem. of Law (Dkt. # 344) at 3, misses the point. In arguing that the hours claimed by plaintiffs’ attorneys are unreasonable, defendants have focused on specific hours and entries in plaintiffs’ counsel’s billing records. Defendants have stated, for example, that plaintiffs’ request for $15,000 for time spent preparing affidavits in connection with a particular motion is excessive, that one of plaintiffs’ attorneys billed 1.5 hours for a hearing that only took a half hour, and that plaintiffs’ allocation of 1443.2 hours of work on preparing binders is “outrageous.” Dkt. # 334 at 17–18. It is precisely because defense counsel then cite only their total time spent on the case that renders it difficult to determine whether this is a fair comparison.
While the court recognized that there may be significant differences in the ways that plaintiffs’ counsel and defense counsel litigate a case, and that this could cause a disparity between the two sides’ respective hours and hourly rates, the court explained that any such a disparity would not necessarily mean that one side’s fees were necessarily unreasonable or excessive. Further, the court held that such considerations go to the weight to be assigned to defense counsel’s billing records rather than rendering them non-discoverable. Thus, the court granted plaintiff’s motion.
Click Mendez v. Radec Corp. to read the entire Decision and Order.
11th Cir.: Plaintiff Not Entitled To Prevailing Attorneys’ Fees, Although She Prevailed, Because Plaintiff’s Attorney Owed A Greater Duty To The Defendant, Who Violated The FLSA, Than His Own Client
Sahyers v. Prugh, Holliday & Karatinos, P.L.
In a decision, which is widely being questioned in legal and scholarly circles, the 11th Circuit affirmed the lower Court’s decision that Plaintiff’s attorney was not entitled to any attorney’s fee, despite the fact that Plaintiff was the prevailing party in this FLSA case.
The Court stated: “The district court’s inherent powers support its decision here. Defendants are lawyers and their law firm. And the lawyer for Plaintiff made absolutely no effort-no phone call; no email; no letter-to inform them of Plaintiff’s impending claim much less to resolve this dispute before filing suit. Plaintiff’s lawyer slavishly followed his client’s instructions and-without a word to Defendants in advance-just sued his fellow lawyers. As the district court saw it, this conscious disregard for lawyer-to-lawyer collegiality and civility caused (among other things) the judiciary to waste significant time and resources on unnecessary litigation and stood in stark contrast to the behavior expected of an officer of the court. The district court refused to reward-and thereby to encourage-uncivil conduct by awarding Plaintiff attorney’s fees or costs. Given the district court’s power of oversight for the bar, we cannot say that this decision was outside of the bounds of the district court’s discretion.”
Perhaps recognizing that its decision held starkly against black letter law and over 70 years of nationwide jurisprudence, the Court limited its decision by stating, “[w]e strongly caution against inferring too much from our decision today. These kinds of decisions are fact-intensive. We put aside cases in which lawyers are not parties. We do not say that pre-suit notice is usually required or even often required under the FLSA to receive an award of attorney’s fees or costs. Nor do we now recommend that courts use their inherent powers to deny prevailing parties attorney’s fees or costs. We declare no judicial duty. We create no presumptions. We conclude only that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to award some attorney’s fees and costs based on the facts of this case.”
While it remains to be seen what, if any, precedential value this decision will have, given the language clearly limiting the scope of the decision, it is clear that the 11th Circuit thinks that attorney Defendants should be treated differently from other Defendants in FLSA cases. In fact, the Court went to great lengths to make it clear that it believes an attorney owes a greater duty to a fellow member of the bar, than to his or her own client. Interestingly, while recognizing that the FLSA does not require a pre-suit notice letter, apparently the Court has created such a requirement if the Defendant is an attorney.