Avendano et al v. Security Consultants Group, Inc. et al, No. 3:2013cv00168 - Document 162 (D. Nev. 2015)

Court Description: ORDER granting in part 133 Motion for Attorney Fees. Union defendants shall pay to plaintiffs $118,720.59 in attorney fees and costs as a penalty for the conduct of their attorney, Robert B. Kapitan, as described in the court's December 2, 2014 order 124 . This order is STAYED until Monday, April 20, 2015. Pursuant to LR IB 3-1(a), a party may file with the District Court an objection to this order within fourteen days of service of the order. If objections are filed, this stay shall remain in effect until the District Court issues its ruling on the objection(s). If no objections are filed, the effective date of this order shall be Tuesday, April 21, 2015. See order for further details. Signed by Magistrate Judge Valerie P. Cooke on 4/2/15. (Copies have been distributed pursuant to the NEF - DN)
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Avendano et al v. Security Consultants Group, Inc. et al Doc. 162 1 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 2 DISTRICT OF NEVADA 3 4 Plaintiffs, 5 v. 6 7 3:13-cv-00168-HDM-VPC ISAAC AVENDANO, et al., ORDER SECURITY CONSULTANTS GROUP, et al., 8 Defendants. 9 10 11 Before the court is plaintiffs’ motion for attorney fees and costs (#133). Union defendants 12 oppose the amount (#138). Plaintiffs replied (#142). For the reasons discussed herein, the court 13 grants plaintiffs’ motion in the amount of $118,720.59. 14 I. BACKGROUND 15 On December 2, 2014, this court ordered plaintiffs to file a motion for attorney fees 16 (#124) (“The December order”). The December order followed an earlier order to show cause 17 (#105) against union defendants and their counsel, Robert B. Kapitan (“Kapitan”). The show 18 cause order resulted from several inconsistent statements Kapitan made to the court during a year 19 of on-going motion practice relating to plaintiffs’ counsel representation of plaintiffs, and also 20 professional conduct proceedings before the Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary 21 Counsel (“ODC”), which considered disqualification of plaintiffs’ counsel in fall 2013. 22 At a January 10, 2014 emergency hearing, Kapitan first misrepresented to the court the 23 status of the ODC matter. Based upon his representations, the court stayed its prior scheduling 24 and discovery orders.1 25 representations, the parties engaged in time-consuming and unmeritorious motion practice— In the following year, and as a result of his prior and continuing 26 27 28 1 The court acknowledges a minor error in the order (#124), as identified by plaintiffs (#133 at 2 n.1). The court stated in the December 2, 2014 order that plaintiffs requested a discovery stay at the January 10, 2014 emergency hearing. (Id. at 4.) The court in fact imposed a stay, but it was not at plaintiffs’ request (see #48). Dockets.Justia.com 1 including a motion to disqualify, sanctions motions under Rule 11 and section 1927, and several 2 motions to seal and for in camera review related to exhibits to these motions. Aside from airing 3 their mutual animosities, the parties accomplished little else. Following its orders on plaintiffs’ 4 sanctions motions in September 2014, the court issued a show cause order. Therein, the court 5 ordered union defendants and Kapitan to explain why they and/or he should not be sanctioned for 6 his misrepresentations about the ODC matter. 7 On December 2, 2014, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that Kapitan had 8 intentionally misrepresented the status of the ODC complaint against plaintiffs’ counsel, and that 9 he further failed to comply with his ethical obligations to the court to correct his 10 misrepresentations, had they been unintentional, when several opportunities presented. Although 11 the court is loath to utilize its power to sanction counsel who appear before it, the court concluded 12 that Kapitan’s conduct required its intervention. Consequently, the court awarded attorneys’ fees 13 to plaintiffs and levied other sanctions, including referral to the ODC for further disciplinary 14 action as it deems appropriate. 15 As to fees, the court ordered: “Within twenty-one (21) days of the entry of this order, 16 plaintiffs shall file a motion describing costs and fees associated with: costs and fees associated 17 with: (1) filing the sanction motions; (2) responding to the court’s show cause order; (3) 18 postponement of the January 2014 ENE; and (4) other costs directly attributable to Kapitan’s 19 January 10 misrepresentations, as plaintiffs contemplated in their response to defendants’ show 20 cause brief.” (#124 at 20) (emphasis removed). Plaintiffs moved for fees, and the parties 21 submitted briefing. Having reviewed the motion and the parties’ positions, this order follows. 22 II. LEGAL STANDARD 23 Calculation of reasonable attorneys’ fees is a two-step process. First, the court computes 24 the “lodestar” figure, which multiplies a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours 25 reasonably expended in the litigation. Carter v. Caleb Brett LLC, 757 F.3d 866, 868 (9th Cir. 26 2014). The lodestar amount is presumptively correct. Mendez v. Cnty. of San Bernadino, 540 27 F.3d 1109, 1129 (9th Cir. 2008). Second, and despite the presumption, the court may modify the 28 lodestar amount. Carter, 757 F.3d at 869 (citing Quesada v. Thomason, 850 F.2d 537, 539 (9th 2 1 Cir 1988) for the relevant factors, as first articulated in Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 2 F.2d 67 (9th Cir. 1975)). In this District, the Kerr factors are incorporated into Local Rule 54-16. III. 3 4 a. DISCUSSION Summary of the Parties’ Positions 5 Plaintiffs’ motion seeks $300,843.60 in fees and costs. Plaintiffs’ counsel have included a 6 timesheet (#133-3) identifying the tasks that they believe fall within the ambit of the December 7 order, and documentation regarding certain travel costs. They seek hourly rates of $550 for 8 partner John A. Tucker, $325 for associate Rachel Baldridge, and $400 for local counsel Ian 9 Silverberg, for hours respectively totaling 287.75, 419.30, and 13.8. (#133 at 4-5; #133-3 at 15.) 10 The motion also requests costs of $741.30 for adjustment of travel, and also interest on these 11 amounts at a rate of 3.25 percent. (Id. at 17-18.) 12 Union defendants challenge the amount on several bases. First, they argue that 13 recoverable fees are limited to services “directly attributable” to the January 10 statements under 14 the terms of the December order. Defendants contend that plaintiffs’ motion disregards this 15 limitation by including services relating to discovery, the motion to disqualify, non-relevant 16 sanctions motions, and other miscellaneous motions. (#138 at 6.) Second, they argue that 17 counsels’ invoice is inadequately “broken down” such that “there is no way to know whether time 18 spent on the sanctions motions involved the claims for sanctions related to the January 10 19 representations . . . .” (Id.) Third, and relatedly, union defendants contend that any time claimed 20 for the Rule 11 motion is improper, and only a portion of the 1927 is recoverable. (Id.) 21 Fourth, they claim that the number of hours claimed is unreasonable. (Id. at 10-11.) Fifth, 22 they request that no time be recoverable for the postponement of the January 2014 ENE, because 23 postponement, in their view, “was due mainly to the filing of the Motion to Disqualify and not to 24 the January 10 misrepresentations . . . .” (Id. at 11.) Sixth, union defendants argue that the hourly 25 rates requested are not reasonable in this market. (Id. at 12.) Here, they argue that plaintiffs have 26 “cherry-picked” cases in support of the requested rates, and that they, as plaintiffs’ counsel, 27 cannot rely on cases allowing higher rates for defense counsel. (Id.) Seventh, they argue that 28 plaintiffs have inadequately supported and explained their request for costs attributable to travel, 3 1 and therefore, only $10 in costs is appropriate. (Id. at 17-19.) Eighth, they argue that plaintiffs 2 have failed to provide authority for their request for interest. 3 defendants canvass the factors identified in LR 54-16 and, in short, argue that each support 4 reducing the award. (Id. at 13-16.) At bottom, they request the court allow fees for only 8.68 5 hours of work and costs of $10, for a grand total of $1,383.75. 6 b. (Id. at 19.) Finally, union Analysis 7 As a preliminary matter, the court is disappointed by the briefing of the parties. On one 8 hand, plaintiffs move for an amount that is likely case-ending, and they include thousands of 9 dollars in attorneys’ fees that, as the court discusses more fully below, fall outside the ambit of 10 the December order. Yet on the other hand, facing what could be draconian sanctions, union 11 defendants remain grossly unhelpful, blithely disregarding the seriousness of this matter—even at 12 this late juncture. Apparently unrepentant for Kapitan’s conduct in this matter, union defendants 13 provide an response to the fees motion that, despite its multiple arguments, fails to engage in 14 detailed analysis of the invoice or to provide a rational basis by which the court can reach a 15 determination of what is fair under the circumstances. Union defendants cannot seriously expect 16 this court to conclude that $1,383.75 in attorneys’ fees and $10 in costs is an appropriate sanction. 17 As has been the case throughout this litigation, the court will again shoulder alone the 18 burden of determining the correct result without meaningful guidance from the parties. The court 19 believes the lodestar figure is incorrect, and adjusts the award as described herein. 20 1. Hourly Rates 21 First, the court will allow rates in the amount of $450 for Tucker, $250 for Baldridge, and 22 $200 for local counsel Silverberg. As another court in this District recently concluded, “[r]ate 23 determinations in other cases in the District of Nevada have found hourly rates as much as $450 24 for a partner and $250 for an experienced associate to be the prevailing market rate in this 25 forum.” Eckenrode v. Rubin & Yates, LLC, No. 2:13-CV-00317-GMN, 2014 WL 4092266, at *7 26 (D. Nev. July 28, 2014), report and recommendation adopted, 2014 WL 4072002 (D. Nev. Aug. 27 15, 2014). The court believes that the Eckenrode rates are appropriate for plaintiffs’ trial counsel. 28 4 1 In addition, $200 is an appropriate rate for Silverberg, who as local counsel has only minimal 2 involvement in the litigation and has appeared in this court only rarely. 3 2. Reasonable Hours 4 The court has reviewed the invoice submitted by plaintiffs (#133-3) and believes it 5 adequately describes the services associated with the fee request. However, upon reviewing the 6 descriptions, the court has determined that services related to several items are improperly 7 included within the request. These services relate to a motion to seal, motion for in camera 8 review, and several motions to strike. The court appreciates the reasonable motivation plaintiffs’ 9 counsel might have had for undertaking this work, but none of these items falls within the precise 10 terms of the court’s December order. Accordingly, no fees shall be granted for tasks facially 11 related to these matters. 12 13 14 As such, the court begins with the following hourly totals for the prescribed four categories, which the court has calculated based upon the descriptions in the invoice: Category Tucker Hours Baldridge Hours 15 Sanction Motions 86.6 110 16 Show Cause Order 50.3 69.6 17 ENE Postponement 18.8 31.5 18 Other Costs Attributable to the 87.9 82.5 19 Misrepresentations 20 21 The sanctions motion category consists of services related to the Rule 11 and section 1927 22 sanction motions. The show cause order consists of services related to the show cause order 23 itself, with 28.7 hours expended by Tucker and 32.2 by Baldridge, and also preparing the fees 24 motion, with 21.6 hours spent by Tucker and another 37.4 by Baldridge. The other costs category 25 includes services related to filing the emergency motion in January 2014, with 12.8 hours spent 26 by Tucker, and 10.6 by Baldridge, and litigating the motion to disqualify, with 75.1 expended by 27 Tucker and 71.9 by Baldridge. 28 5 1 Union defendants are incorrect that the order’s reference to “directly attributable” to the 2 January 10 misrepresentations is a limitation on all categories of fees; their reading of the order is 3 contrived and self-serving. The December order plainly identifies four categories. The sanctions 4 motions are separately recoverable—and rightly so, as they are sufficiently related to Kapitan’s 5 misrepresentations over several months. If union defendants believed that no fees should be 6 awarded for certain sanctions motions, the proper time to raise that argument was in a motion for 7 reconsideration following the December order, which made plain that fees for the sanctions 8 motions would be awarded. 9 Moreover, the “directly attributable” category is a catch-all. In the court’s view, it easily 10 and appropriately includes litigating the motion to disqualify. Kapitan’s repeated remarks led the 11 court to believe that it needed to consider disqualification because the matter had not yet been 12 decided by the ODC; in other words, Kapitan’s remarks intimate that bona fide, previously 13 unexamined reasons, might have existed for disqualifying plaintiffs’ counsel. The December 14 order concludes that this understanding was an inaccurate one—a misunderstanding that owed 15 only to Kapitan’s misrepresentations. Union defendants may have moved to disqualify of their 16 own accord. But for Kapitan’s dishonest characterizations, however, the court would not have 17 delayed the timely progress of this case to facilitate review of the disqualification motion that it 18 ordered union defendants to file in January 2014. The motion to disqualify shall be recoverable 19 within the other costs category. 20 To the above sums, the court makes the following modifications. First, based upon the 21 descriptions, all services claimed for the ENE postponement relate to preparing for the ENE 22 itself—a task required by the Local Rules. As these requests are for services that predate 23 postponement, they are not recoverable under the December order. The court will allow only 24 costs for postponement, as described below. Second, for similar reasons, the court will disallow 25 any fees related to filing the emergency motion. These also predate the misrepresentations. 26 Third, the court will reduce by half Tucker’s hours related to preparing the motion to 27 disqualify, the sanction motions, and the show cause order (but not those hours expended on the 28 motion for fees), as the total hours are excessive in the court’s view. Plaintiffs suggest that hours 6 1 need not be reduced because they attempted to limit costs by limiting Tucker’s role to supervision 2 and strategy, while using Baldridge, “an associate with a lower billing rate,” to draft and research. 3 (#133 at 3.) The invoice and request conflict with that explanation. The hour totals of the two 4 attorneys are similar, and several descriptions suggest that Tucker took an involved role in 5 drafting and research. In absence of union defendants’ proposal for a more exact method of 6 reduction and accounting for possible duplication of efforts, the court will accept plaintiffs’ 7 characterization of the attorneys’ work and allow fee recovery commensurate with the stated goal. 8 To do so, the court reduces Tucker’s hours to 43.3 for the sanctions motions, 36 for the show 9 cause order, and to 37.6 for the “other costs.” 10 Under these reductions, the court therefore awards the following sums in attorney fees. 11 First, for Tucker’s 116.9 hours of services at $450 per hour, an amount of $52,605. Second, for 12 251.5 hours of Baldridge’s work at $250 per hour, a sum of $62,875. Third, for 13.8 hours of 13 Silverberg’s time at $200 per hour, a total of $2,760. Therefore, the grand total of attorney fees to 14 plaintiffs shall be $118,240. This figure is based upon reasonable rates for a reasonable number 15 of hours, as determined by the foregoing considerations. The court declines to make additional 16 modifications to these amounts based upon the Kerr factors, as union defendants’ arguments on 17 these factors are conclusory and unpersuasive. The court further declines to award fees to 18 plaintiffs for the preparation of the reply brief. (See #142 at 20.) 19 3. Costs 20 The court awards $480.59 in costs related to the ENE postponement. These result from 21 last minute flight changes that plaintiffs’ counsel have documented. The court declines to award 22 $260.71, as requested, for cancellation of a rental car. Union defendants argue, and the exhibits 23 provided by plaintiffs similarly suggest, that no fees were incurred for cancellation of a rental 24 vehicle. (See #133-15) (stating that there is “no charge” for “drop[ping]” the reservation). 25 4. Interest 26 The court declines to award interest on the above amounts. Plaintiffs have not provided 27 authority for their entitlement to the same and declined to respond to union defendants’ argument 28 on this point. 7 IV. 1 CONCLUSION 2 Even under a charitable view, Kapitan’s remarks delayed the resolution of this case by 3 over one year,2 and extinguished the viability of early resolution through this District’s ENE 4 process. 5 determination . . .” of this matter. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1. As the parties know, the court holds 6 monthly case management conferences, at which it presides over minor discovery disputes that 7 most attorneys who appear in this District are able to resolve themselves. Notwithstanding the 8 on-going difficulties in this case, the court will continue to guide the parties toward a timely 9 resolution. Plaintiffs seek $300,843.60 in fees and costs. For the foregoing reasons, the court reduces 10 11 Nevertheless, the court remains committed to “the just, speedy, and inexpensive the award as described and orders that union defendants shall remit to plaintiffs $118,720.59. 12 IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that plaintiffs’ motion (#133) is GRANTED IN 13 PART. Union defendants shall pay to plaintiffs $118,720.59 in attorney fees and costs as a 14 penalty for the conduct of their attorney, Robert B. Kapitan, as described in the court’s December 15 2, 2014 order (#124). 16 IT IS FUTHER ORDERED that this order is STAYED until Monday, April 20, 2015. 17 Pursuant to LR IB 3-1(a), a party may file with the District Court an objection to this order within 18 fourteen days of service of the order. If objections are filed, this stay shall remain in effect until 19 the District Court issues its ruling on the objection(s). If no objections are filed, the effective date 20 of this order shall be Tuesday, April 21, 2015. 21 22 IT IS SO ORDERED. 23 DATED: April 2, 2015. ______________________________________ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 24 25 26 27 28 2 Under the original scheduling order, the discovery cut-off was January 23, 2014. (See #37.) As a result of the fracas described in the December order and referenced herein, the discovery cut-off is now April 21, 2015. (See #116.) The parties are reminded that the court shall grant no extensions of discovery for any reason. 8