Aecom Energy and Construction, Inc. v. John Ripley et al, No. 2:2017cv05398 - Document 233 (C.D. Cal. 2018)

Court Description: MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES Dkt. No. 162 by Magistrate Judge Suzanne H. Segal. The Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Request in full and awards Plaintiff $21,716.30 in attorney's fees for work done on the July 24, 2018 Contempt Motion, filed at Dkt. No. 162 . Defendants are ORDERED to pay Plaintiff the fee award within thirty days of the date of this Order. (See document for further details). (mr)
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Aecom Energy and Construction, Inc. v. John Ripley et al Doc. 233 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 9 10 11 AECOM ENERGY & CONSTRUCTION, INC., Plaintiff, 12 13 14 Case No. CV 17-5398 RSWL (SSx) MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S REQUEST FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES v. JOHN RIPLEY, et al., Dkt. No. 162 Defendants. 15 16 17 I. 18 INTRODUCTION 19 20 On June 27, 2018, the Court granted in part and denied in part 21 Plaintiff’s motion to compel further responses to certain discovery 22 requests. 23 Defendants to supplement their responses to 24 No. 15, which sought information about Topolewski America’s revenue 25 and profits relating to the use of the MK brand; (2) Request for 26 Production No. 19, which sought corporate financial and income 27 statements; and (3) Request for Production No. 20, which sought 28 the corporate Defendants’ income tax and bank statements. (Dkt. No. 154). As relevant here, the Court ordered (1) Interrogatory (Id. at Dockets.Justia.com Defendants served a joint set of “Further Supplemental 1 17-18). 2 Responses” on July 18, 2018, which Plaintiff quickly determined 3 were deficient.1 4 Supplemental Responses on July 23, 2018. 5 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Hold Defendants in Civil Contempt 6 for Violating the Court’s Order re Discovery and to Award Plaintiff 7 Its Costs and Fees. 8 31, 2018, one week after the Contempt Motion was filed, the 9 corporate Defendants served their Third Supplemental Responses to 10 Individual Defendant Gary Topolewski served Third The next day, July 24, (“Contempt Motion,” Dkt. No. 162). On July the requests. 11 On September 7, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff’s Contempt 12 (“Contempt Order,” Dkt. No. 13 Motion in part and denied it in part. 14 210). 15 Supplemental Responses to Interrogatory No. 15, (id. at 15), and, 16 for the corporate Defendants, Request for Production No. 20. 17 at 24). The Court denied Plaintiff’s Motion with respect to Request 18 for Production No. 19 and the response to Request for Production 19 No. 20 by Topolewski on the ground that the Third Supplemental 20 Responses to those requests satisfied the Court’s prior Order. 21 (Id. at 20, 25). Specifically, the Court ordered Defendants to serve Fourth (Id. 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 1 Defendants served their first set of supplemental discovery responses in April 2018, before Plaintiff had filed its motion to compel. The dates of service of Defendants’ various supplemental discovery responses listed in the paragraph above are taken from the Court’s September 7, 2018 Order and the supporting documents cited therein, and will be referred to here without further citation. (See Dkt. No. 210 at 3). 2 The Order also granted Plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees 1 2 with respect to each discovery request. 3 Fourth Supplemental Response, the Court granted the attorney’s fees 4 request on the ground that the Motion for Contempt was necessary 5 to obtain a complete and proper response to the discovery request. 6 (See id. at 15, 25). Where the Court determined that Defendants 7 were in 8 Supplemental Responses satisfied the Court’s prior Order, the Court 9 nevertheless granted the attorney’s fees request on the ground that 10 the only reason Defendants provided Third Supplemental Responses 11 was because of the Motion for Contempt. not presently contempt Where the Court ordered a because Defendants’ Third (Id. at 15, 20, 25). 12 Pursuant 13 to the Court’s Order, on September 11, 2018, 14 Plaintiff submitted a Supplemental Filing in Support of Its Costs 15 and Fees Incurred by the Motion for Civil Contempt, (“P Memo.”), 16 including the declaration of Yungmoon Chang (“Chang Decl.”). (Dkt. 17 No. 213). 18 (“Opp.,” Dkt. No. 223). 19 21, 2018. 20 the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s Request in full and awards Plaintiff 21 the 22 prosecuting its July 24, 2018 Contempt Motion. 23 \\ 24 \\ 25 \\ 26 \\ 27 \\ Defendants filed an Opposition on September 18, 2018. Plaintiff’s Reply followed on September (“Reply,” Dkt. No. 226). $21,716.30 in fees that it 28 3 For the reasons stated below, incurred in preparing and (Dkt. No. 162). 1 II. 2 STANDARD 3 4 Attorneys’ fees in a civil contempt or Rule 37 proceeding are 5 generally limited to those reasonably and necessarily incurred in 6 the attempt to enforce compliance. 7 Kong Tri-Ace Tire Co., 281 F. Supp. 3d 967, 993 (C.D. Cal. 2017) 8 (quoting Abbott Labs. v. Unlimited Beverages, Inc., 218 F.3d 1238, 9 1242 (11th Cir. 2000)). Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. v. Hong Courts employ the “lodestar method” to 10 determine the reasonableness of the requested attorneys’ fees. 11 Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). 12 is calculated by multiplying the number of hours the prevailing 13 party reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly 14 rate.” 15 (9th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); 16 see also Gracie v. Gracie, 217 F.3d 1060, 1070 (9th Cir. 2000) 17 (same). “The ‘lodestar’ Ferland v. Conrad Credit Corp., 244 F.3d 1145, 1149 n.4 18 19 The fee applicant must submit evidence of the hours worked 20 and the rates claimed, Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, and bears the 21 burden of showing that the rates charged and hours worked are 22 reasonable. 23 (9th Cir. 1983). 24 resulting product is presumed to be the reasonable fee.” 25 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). 26 the presumptive reasonableness of the lodestar amount, the party 27 opposing 28 requires submission of evidence to the district court challenging the See Intel Corp. v. Terabyte Int’l, 6 F.3d 614, 623 fee “If the applicant satisfies its burden . . . the application “has 4 a burden of Id. To challenge rebuttal that 1 the accuracy and reasonableness of the hours charged or the facts 2 asserted by the prevailing party in its affidavits.” 3 Deukmejian, 4 added). 5 excessive or redundant, may be excluded by the court. 6 461 U.S. at 434. 7 if it exceeds the prevailing rate in the legal community where the 8 district court sits. 9 73 F.3d 895, 906 (9th Cir. 1995). 987 F.2d 1392, 1397–98 (9th Cir. 1992) Gates v. (emphasis All hours that are not reasonably expended, or that are Hensley, The court may also lower counsel’s hourly rate Schwarz v. Sec’y of Health and Human Serv., 10 11 “While in most cases the lodestar figure is presumptively 12 reasonable, in rare cases, a district court may make upward or 13 downward adjustments to the presumptively reasonable lodestar on 14 the basis of those factors set out in Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, 15 Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 69–70 (9th Cir. 1975) [abrogated in part on 16 other grounds by City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557 (1992)] 17 that have not been subsumed in the lodestar calculation” itself.2 18 Camacho v. Bridgeport Financial, Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 19 2008) (quoting Gates, 987 F.2d at 1402); see also Stetson v. 20 Grissom, 821 F.3d 1157, 1167 (9th Cir. 2016) (remanding for 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 2 According to the Camacho court, factors potentially warranting an adjustment of the lodestar amount may include “the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; the amount involved and the results obtained; the ‘undesirability’ of the case; the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and awards in similar cases.” Camacho, 523 F.3d at 982 n.1 (citing Kerr, 526 F.2d at 70)). These “adjustment” factors are not at issue here, however, because Plaintiff’s attorneys do not seek a multiplier of the lodestar amount, and Defendants’ attorneys challenge only the hours and rates in the lodestar calculation itself. 5 1 explicit analysis of “why the Kerr reasonableness factor do or do 2 not favor applying a multiplier (positive or negative) in this 3 case”) 4 Nonetheless, the presumption that the lodestar figure represents a 5 “reasonable fee” is “strong,” and “therefore, it should only be 6 enhanced or reduced in ‘rare and exceptional cases.’” 7 SJB-P.D. Inc., 214 F.3d 1115, 1119 n.4 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting 8 Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens’ Council for Clean Air, 9 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986)). (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Fischer v. 10 11 III. 12 DISCUSSION 13 14 Plaintiff seeks an attorney’s fees award totaling $21,716.30 15 for fees incurred in connection with the July 24, 2018 Contempt 16 Motion, broken down as follows: 17 18 Partner Diana Torres: 06.60 hours @ $892/hr = $ 5,887.20 19 Associate Yungmoon Chang: 23.90 hours @ $554/hr = $13,240.60 20 Paralegal Keith Catuara: 07.75 hours @ $334/hr = $ 2,588.50 21 Total $21,716.30 22 23 A. Reasonableness Of Rates 24 25 The District Judge has twice awarded attorney’s fees to 26 Plaintiff in this action for the cost of bringing other successful 27 contempt 28 Attorneys’ Fees, Dkt. No. 97, at 5-6; Order re: Plaintiff’s Request motions. (See Order 6 re: Plaintiff’s Request for 1 for Attorneys’ Fees, Dkt. No. 155, at 9-10). 2 the Court concluded that the exact hourly rates requested here for 3 Torres, Chang and Catuara were reasonable and “in line with rates 4 [that] courts in the Central District have previously approved.” 5 (Dkt. No. 97 at 4) (citing Perfect 10, Inc. v. Giganews, Inc., 2015 6 WL 1746484, at *20 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 24, 2015), aff’d, 847 F.3d 657 7 (9th Cir. 2017) (approving partner rate between $825 and $930, 8 associate rate between $350 and $690, and paralegal rate between 9 $240 and $345); Burton Way Hotels, Ltd. v. Four Seasons Hotels 10 Ltd., 2015 WL 13081297, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 21, 2015) (approving 11 partner rate of $886.50 and associate rate of $540)). In making the awards, 12 13 Despite the District Judge’s prior findings, Defendants argue 14 that counsel’s rates are excessive and that Plaintiff has failed 15 to meet its burden of production showing that the rates are 16 consistent 17 District. 18 the proposition that declarations of attorneys in the community 19 may be sufficient proof of the reasonableness of counsel’s rates, 20 declarations by practitioners are not the exclusive means by which 21 counsel can establish a reasonable hourly rate. 22 Circuit has expressly held that in addition to declarations of 23 counsel, 24 satisfactory evidence of the prevailing market rate.’” 25 523 F.3d at 980 (quoting United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge 26 Corp., 896 F.2d 403, 407 (9th Cir. 1990)). 27 Burton Way Hotels, both cited by Plaintiff in its Supplemental 28 Brief, establish judicial approval of rates almost exactly the same with the prevailing (Opp. at 2). “‘rate market rates in the Central While Defendants cite several cases for determinations 7 in other (Id.). cases . The Ninth . . are Camacho, Here, Perfect 10 and 1 as those requested here, and easily support the finding that the 2 rates requested here are reasonable in the Central District. 3 P Memo. at 2). (See 4 5 Plaintiff’s counsel’s rates remain unchanged from the prior 6 fees awards in this case, and, as the District Judge observed in 7 approving those rates, “there is no reason to believe that those 8 rates are no longer reasonable,” even if they may be “on the higher 9 end” of the fee range. (Dkt. No. 155 at 9-10). In the Court’s 10 view, Plaintiff’s counsel’s briefs and argument were excellent, in 11 a relatively complex matter, and deserving of an hourly rate at 12 the higher end of the scale. 13 the hourly rates are reasonable and consistent with comparable 14 market rates in the Central District. Accordingly, the Court finds that 15 16 B. Reasonableness Of Time Spent 17 18 The Court must next assess “whether attorneys for the 19 prevailing party could have reasonably billed the hours they claim 20 to their private clients.” Gonzalez v. City of Maywood, 729 F.3d 21 1196, 1202 (9th Cir. 2013). In so doing, courts perform an “‘hour- 22 by-hour analysis of the fee request,’ and exclude those hours for 23 which it would be unreasonable to compensate the prevailing party.” 24 Id. (quoting Gates, 987 F.2d at 1399). 25 is “massive” and includes non-compensable hours, the district court 26 has the authority “to make across-the-board percentage cuts either 27 in the number of hours claimed or in the final lodestar figure as 28 8 Where the fee application 1 a practical means” of excluding non-compensable hours from the 2 total fees awarded. Id. 3 4 Defendants broadly assert that the amount of hours Plaintiff’s 5 counsel billed in connection with the Contempt Motion is excessive. 6 (Opp. at 3). 7 because they are not supported by specific citations to the record, 8 such as the timekeeper name and date on the spreadsheet of time 9 billed to AECOM attached as Exhibit A to Chang’s declaration (the Defendants’ contentions are difficult to follow 10 “spreadsheet”). 11 in part be referring to a summary in Chang’s declaration of the 12 combined time it took Torres, Chang and Catuara to complete various 13 tasks, such as (1) corresponding and conferring with Defendants 14 prior to filing the Contempt Motion (1.6 hours); (2) researching 15 and drafting the Motion and supporting documents (12.65 hours); 16 (3) reviewing the Opposition and Third Supplemental Discovery 17 Responses, 18 (4) researching 19 declaration (13.0 hours); and (5) preparing for and attending the 20 hearing on the Contempt Motion (7.20 hours). 21 2). 22 reflect 23 Defendants also ignore that tasks were routinely allocated to the 24 lowest appropriate biller. and However, it appears that Defendants may at least developing and a drafting reply the strategy reply brief (1.3 and hours); supporting (See Chang Decl. at However, Defendants’ critiques overlook that these totals the combined time of two lawyers and one paralegal. 25 26 Defendants further complain, apparently in reference to the 27 spreadsheet, that the 3.7 hours that Plaintiff is claiming for the 28 Contempt Motion hearing and the 2.5 hours for preparation of the 9 1 instant supplemental fees memo exceeds the reasonable amount of 2 time those tasks should have taken. 3 Defendants overlook that the 3.7 hours allocated to the hearing 4 reflect both the associate’s preparation time on the day of the 5 hearing and the attendance at the hearing by lead counsel and the 6 associate, both of whom participated in the proceedings. 7 hours allocated to the preparation and filing of the supplemental 8 fees motion similarly combine the time spent by lead counsel, the 9 associate and the paralegal to assemble the supporting materials (Opp. at 3-4). However, The 2.5 10 and to draft and file the memorandum and declaration. 11 does not see any billing entries that are “excessive, redundant, 12 or otherwise unnecessary,” and therefore finds the total hours 13 billed, 14 paralegal, to be reasonable. as allocated among the lead counsel, The Court associate, and Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. 15 16 IV. 17 CONCLUSION 18 19 For the reasons stated above, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s 20 Request in full and awards Plaintiff $21,716.30 in attorney’s fees 21 for work done on the July 24, 2018 Contempt Motion, filed at Dkt. 22 No. 162. 23 within thirty days of the date of this Order. Defendants are ORDERED to pay Plaintiff the fee award 24 25 26 DATED: October 9, 2018 /S/ SUZANNE H. SEGAL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 27 28 10